New York to Strengthen Abortion Rights: Will This Help Push Pro-Choice Across the Country?

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing the envelope by strengthening abortion rights, which he outlined in the Reproductive Health Act mentioned in his State of the State Address. Cuomo said he was in the process of finishing a bill that would allow women to have late-term abortions if their health is at risk or if the fetus is not viable, according to a piece in the New York Times. Cuomo's actions are a much-needed measure in a country where only seven states to date fully protect the right to an abortion beyond federal precedent.

The current law states that abortions are only allowed after 24 weeks if a woman’s life is said to be in danger, but late term abortions are not often utilized because of legal state and federal complications. Cuomo’s bill sets out to transition abortion rights from New York’s penal code to regulation via the state’s public health care law. Furthermore, Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act would allow licensed health practitioners and physicians to perform abortions.

Cuomo is navigating through controversial but progressive waters, in traditional New York style. The state was one of the first to permit abortion three years before Roe v. Wade. While states are often seen as sites of potential reversal for federal abortion rights, states can also bolster Roe, or put in place abortion rights protections should Roe be overturned. Many pro-choice advocates have asked state legislatures to adopt laws which confirm or expand upon Roe's legal provisions.

While women and pro-choice supporters may find the stance that has yet to be formally introduced impressive, religious opponents remain concerned. New York archbishop Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote a letter outlining his concerns:

However, I would be remiss if I did not renew my great disappointment regarding your continued support for the radical Reproductive Health Act. I know that you appreciate the fact that millions of New Yorkers of all faiths, or none at all, share a deep respect for all human life from conception to natural death. I also know that you are aware that New York State’s abortion rate is, incredibly, double the national average. Sadly, nearly 4 in 10 pregnancies statewide end in abortion. In some parts of New York City, the rate is higher than 60%, mostly in the impoverished Black and Latino communities.

As we have discussed in the past, we obviously disagree on the question of the legality of abortion, but surely we are in equally strong agreement that the abortion rate in New York is tragically high. There was a time when abortion supporters claimed they wanted to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” Yet this measure is specifically designed to expand access to abortion, and therefore to increase the abortion rate. I am hard pressed to think of a piece of legislation that is less needed or more harmful than this one.

I do hope you will reconsider this position. I stand ready and eager to discuss this or any other matter with you at any time. My brother bishops and I would very much like to work closely with you to reduce New York’s scandalous abortion rate and to provide an environment for all women and girls in which they are not made to feel as though their only alternative is to abort, something which goes against all human instinct, and which all too often leads to lifelong feelings of regret, guilt and pain for them, and for the baby’s father as well.

It is interesting that the Cardinal brings up the statistic of abortion rates being higher amongst unprivileged minorities. Does he realize that such measures are often used within those communities which typically have more issues with accessing quality health care and contraceptives, therefore are more likely to become unintentionally pregnant? And with restricted reproductive health rights, these women are more likely to have children they do not necessarily have the means to care for properly.

While some suggest Cuomo may not face trouble in getting the bill passed through the Democrat-friendly state assembly, the Republican-controlled Senate has the power to turn down the legislation. Cuomo’s bill is apart of an overarching Women’s Equality Act that has 10 parts and tackles subjects ranging from anti-discrimination to equal pay.

“It’s an extraordinary moment in terms of the degree to which there is government interference in a woman’s ability to make these basic health care decisions,” President Andrea Miller of NARAL Pro-Choice New York told the Times. “For New York to be able to send a signal, a hopeful sign, a sense of the turning of the tide, we think is really important.”

Her statement, pitted against that of Reverend Jason J. McGuire of the New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedom, makes for a palpable disparity, wherein personal religious beliefs seeping into politics may supersede what is ultimately a woman's personal choice. “If you ask anyone on the street, ‘Is there enough abortion in New York?’ no one in their right mind would say we need more abortion,” the reverend said to the Times.

The fight over abortion rights in New York, then, is far from over.