State and local officials must act to ensure women have access to abortion and reproductive health care — especially as medical facilities offer limited services and hours through the coronavirus pandemic, State Attorney General Letitia James said.
James hosted a panel discussion with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., late Tuesday morning about the need to defend reproductive rights in New York and nationwide.
James, Gillibrand and a panel of state and national reproductive health care groups discussed recent legislation and actions in other states and President Donald Trump’s administration to curb access to legal abortion in the U.S. — especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, we were experiencing the most aggressive attack on reproductive rights since Roe v. Wade ... [since the pandemic] we have seen them launch a full-scale assault on reproductive freedom and deny individuals their constitutional rights,” James said Tuesday. “They’re trying to dictate what people can and cannot do with their bodies. They are trying to make it harder for people already disadvantaged by poverty to gain safe access to health care and abortion.
“We’re here to say, not on our watch,” James said.
Last month, a federal court threw out a Trump administration rule that would have made it more difficult for women in New York and across the nation to access abortion services under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
In January, James and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra co-led a coalition of eight attorneys general in a lawsuit to stop the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services from implementing the new interim rule, which threatened to potentially kick millions of women off their health plans if they failed to comply with a technical billing issue related to abortion coverage. This year, James led 23 attorneys general across the nation in filing a suit against the Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to allow women to receive the abortion pill Mifepristone — a progesterone-blocking medication that can terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks — via a telehealth appointment because of COVID-19.
James and defendants, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, demanded the FDA requirement be lifted that forces women to appear at a clinic in person to receive Mifepristone for an early abortion or miscarriage care.
“We are fighting back,” James said. “I will not and have not hesitated to take legal action. Access to health care is a basic human right. No person, political party or government entity can legally deny that right.”
Gillibrand continues to support legislation to ensure legal abortion access and adequate reproductive health care across the nation. In Congress, Gillibrand co-sponsors the Women’s Health Protection Act, which prohibits state laws that put on medically unnecessary requirements for abortion access and supports the Equal Access to Abortion Access and Health Insurance and the Protect Access to Birth Control Act to block the rule that allows employers to unwind recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, such as in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania that ruled to protect the religious liberty of faith-based organizations and having contraception and reproductive health care covered for employees.
“There is so much institutional racism in our health care system,” Gillibrand said. “Unfortunately, not everybody agrees when it comes to reproductive health. ... We have strong protections in New York, but it’s unthinkable to me in 2020 your boss could decide whether or not you access birth control. During the pandemic, we should be doing everything we can to make access easier, not harder.”