Cuomo seeks change to state abortion laws

cuomo
Governor Andrew Cuomo is putting the final touches on legislation that would ease state limits on late-term abortions. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

In his State of the State speech recently, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan for a 10-point Women’s Equality Act.

The points related to a number of issues, from equal pay to stricter repercussions for sexual harassment in the workplace, but the governor saved what is likely the most contentious point for number 10: enacting a Reproductive Health Act “protect[ing] a woman’s freedom of choice.”

The governor did not expand on what that would entail, though his office confirmed that, broadly, it would involve removing abortion from New York state penal law, and regulating it through the state’s public health law instead, as well as augmenting the criteria under which late-term abortions are permitted.

Late-term abortions are those performed more than 24 weeks into a pregnancy.

Currently, New York state law allows late-term abortions in cases where the mother’s life is in danger. Federal law permits late-term abortions in those cases as well, but also includes cases where there is a threat to the mother’s health, or the fetus is non-viable.

Doctors who perform abortions in the latter cases are protected by federal law, even if the abortions occur in New York state.

Opponents of the bill are referring to it as the Abortion Expansion Act, prompting the governor to repeatedly insist that his law “doesn’t change the legal parameters whatsoever” as it only “codifies [federal policy] as New York state law.”

However, when pressed, the Governor conceded that “the point of having it in the state law is if the Supreme Court ever made a different decision,” referring to the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationally in 1973.

“Maybe not this year, but it could happen, and if you have a state law, you’re protected,” Cuomo explained.

The law would be significant nationally, as the last two years have seen a record number of laws restricting abortion access on the state level, according to a policy review from the Guttmacher Institute.

In 2012, 19 states passed a total of 43 provisions restricting abortion, while no laws were enacted to facilitate or increase access to abortion.

Abortion rights advocates praised the proposal for bucking this trend.

“At a time when the vast majority of legislation introduced that relates to women’s health seeks to restrict, [Cuomo's] proposal stands out,” said Deborah Jacobs, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at the Ms. Foundation for Women. “Not only is a step in the right direction, it reflects the values of most Americans when it comes to women’s health and safety.”

Follow Danielle Tcholakian on Twitter @danielleiat


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