On the 46th anniversary of the historic decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case Roe v. Wade that declared a state law banning abortions except to save the mother’s life was unconstitutional, New York state passed legislation Tuesday that would further cement the ruling with the Reproductive Health Act.
Both houses of the state legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act that among other changes recodifies the state law for legal abortions under the state’s health law, which further protects the law from repeal if the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is overturned.
The legislation also changes the state’s education law.
“Women’s reproductive rights should never be up for debate,” said Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106, who chairs of the bipartisan Legislative Women’s Caucus. “It’s outrageous to think that a woman can’t make her own choices about her own body and health.”
Barrett, D-106 voted for the legislation.
“The passing of the Reproductive Health Act makes it clear that abortion is standard medical care, that health care is a human right and that no one should be able to intervene in the personal and private decisions people make about their reproductive health care,” said Chelly Hegan, president and CEO of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood. “As we celebrate the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, it is more important than ever to show how much we in the Capital Region and across New York State proudly support access to abortion.”
Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood held a Roe v. Wade anniversary event Tuesday at the Renaissance Albany Hotel at 144 State St., to commemorate the historic Supreme Court decision.
“I believe God does not want us to kill a life,” said Ruth Riozzi, who coordinates the Travelin’ Pantry at 204 Fairview Ave., Hudson. “It is against the Bible and Christian beliefs. I also feel some women use abortion as a form of birth control.”
The food pantry, which is almost 35 years old, is sponsored by St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, and Riozzi said that as a Christian effort, the pantry is also pro-life.
“I am really against late-term abortion,” said Rose Morrison, a pantry volunteer. “Those babies feel pain. They are in the stages of human development. You are not carrying an animal, you are carrying a human.”
Cuomo congratulated advocates who he said, “worked so hard and so long and for so many years,” to see the Reproductive Health Act become law.
Democrats in the state Legislature have tried to recodify the state’s reproductive rights for many years, but it always failed to make it through the historically Republican-led Senate. The initiative was originally part of a 10-point women’s equality agenda — a package of 10 bills addressing issues including human trafficking, sexual harassment, pay equality and abortion rights. In 2015, the legislature passed nine of the 10 points as part of the state budget without the abortion component.
The governor included the abortion rights initiative in his agenda for the first 100 days of the 2019 legislative session that started Jan. 9, after Democrats took control of the Legislature in November.
The bill was passed in the Senate 38-24 without a single Republican vote.
“The RHA does nothing to improve the quality of women’s health, or the safety of women’s health — instead it puts women’s health and lives in jeopardy,” said state Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46. “This bill was portrayed as a codification of Roe v. Wade, but in reality, it’s a dangerous expansion that will now allow late-term abortions and allows non-doctors to perform them.”
The new law allows a health care practitioner to decide to perform an abortion after the set 24-week cutoff established in state law if the practitioner determines the baby will not be able to live a viable life, which is not specifically defined in the text of the legislation, or determines an abortion is necessary to protect the mother’s life.
“The lack of a specific definition for a ‘patient’s health’ essentially makes abortion a free-for-all,” said state Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43. “It enables anyone to claim mental distress, even financial circumstances, or simply not wanting a child, as a part of their health concern. Sadly, this is another step toward our becoming a feel-good, throwaway society. A baby inside its mother is not an inanimate object; it is a life.”
Cuomo took the time at the podium before signing the bill into law to rail against the President Donald Trump administration.
“We took the vote,” Cuomo said. “We shouldn’t be here in the first place. We should not have a federal government that is trying to roll back women’s rights to a point 50 years ago. This administration defies American evolution. We’re supposed to be moving forward. Their entire perspective on the world is a retrospective.”
Cuomo cited the recent 5-4 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the military to temporarily ban certain people who are transgender from serving as a harbinger for other decisions to come, including rolling back reproductive rights secured by Roe V. Wade.
“This president and these extremists are going there, do not kid yourself,” Cuomo said. “That 5-4 decision, you are going to hear that over and over again. That’s why they wanted the Supreme Court. And that’s why we had to pass this law — to protect our state.”
Cuomo proposed to take the fight even further by making abortion rights part of the state constitution.
“So no governor, no legislator, no political swing can ever jeopardize a woman’s right to control her own body in this state,” Cuomo said to applause from the audience. “New York is setting the bar on women’s equality.”
The Legislature also passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act with bipartisan support. The bill would require health insurance policies to include coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs, devices and products, as well as voluntary sterilization procedures, contraceptive education and counseling.
“Women should not have to worry about access to contraception or discrimination from employers based on their personal medical decisions,” Barrett said. “Our health care decisions are our own. This legislation will better protect New York women’s constitutional rights, regardless of what happens in Washington.”
The bill received votes from Republicans in the Assembly and Senate, but Amedore and Jordan voted against it, arguing that the bill does not offer protections for people’s religious beliefs.
“First, the bill would provide girls as young as 11 or 12 years of age easy access to powerful drugs without their parents’ knowledge or oversight from a physician,” Jordan said. “Second, the measure does not provide religious liberty protections for employers that have objections to financing insurance coverage of drugs they find morally objectionable.”