Despite a great victory in June 2013, the pro-life community in New York State must remain vigilant and continue to educate and mobilize against abortion expansion. An amendment to bring the Abortion Expansion Act to the Senate floor for a vote was defeated by only one vote! The battle continues, and there is much work to be done.
First proposed in 2007 by former Governor Eliot Spitzer, and then known as the “Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act,” versions of abortion expansion legislation have been introduced in the NYS Legislature for the past seven years. In 2013, Governor Andrew Cuomo re-packaged the bill as one part of a 10-point “Women’s Equality Act” and applied considerable political capital toward passing the bill. It was the first year abortion expansion ever came to a legislative vote, with the Assembly passing the Governor’s bill by a vote of 98-47. The Senate refused to vote on abortion expansion, and therefore separated the package into 10 separate parts and passed only nine. Senate leaders noted that New York has the highest abortion rate in the nation, with one in three pregnancies ending in abortion.
WHAT IS NEW YORK’S CURRENT LAW REGARDING ABORTION?
New York’s abortion law, enacted in 1970, bans abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless it is deemed necessary to save the life of the mother (Penal Law Article 125). The abortion lobby doesn’t believe this law sufficiently allows for elective abortions in the third trimester of pregnancy. They say the law has a “chilling effect” on both abortionists and patients who seek later-term abortions.
WHAT WOULD ABORTION EXPANSION LEGISLATION DO?
The primary purpose of abortion expansion legislation is to remove any existing regulation of abortion. For example, the Governor’s proposal would add a “health” exception to New York law. The health exception, created by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1973, would allow abortion on demand at any time in a woman’s pregnancy if deemed necessary for her life or health, with health not defined in the bill, but broadly defined by the Court to allow any emotional, economic, social, age or other factor to be deemed a “health” justification for abortion.
ARE THERE OTHER WAYS ABORTION COULD BE EXPANDED IN NEW YORK?
Yes. Another goal of abortion advocates is to allow non-doctors to do abortions. Current state law and regulations specifically require a licensed physician to perform surgical abortions, but fewer and fewer doctors are willing to do so. The latest abortion expansion bill removed the requirement for a licensed physician and added nothing in its place, leaving it up to State Health Department bureaucrats to decide which medical providers (physician assistant? nurse practitioner? midwife?) can perform abortions within their “scope of practice.”
Another aim of the abortion industry is to remove abortion from the criminal code in New York State because in their view, it is not, and never should be, a crime to kill an unborn child. They claim that abortion is simply a mainstream medical procedure that should be regulated in the Public Health Law alongside tonsillectomies and hernia repair. Governor Cuomo’s abortion expansion legislation, which we call the “Abortion Expansion Act,” would accomplish this goal.
DOES ABORTION EXPANSION THREATEN RELIGIOUS LIBERTY?
Yes. The latest version of the Abortion Expansion Act contained a “conscience clause” that was both vague and extremely limited. It claimed to protect “health care providers” with religious or moral objections, but it failed to define the term, making it unclear if it would have protected hospitals or individual doctors and nurses. Moreover, the bill simply referenced current state and federal laws protecting religious liberty, the very laws that are under attack nationally by abortion lobbyists and government officials who believe that an absolute right to abortion must always prevail over a health provider’s right of conscience.
The Abortion Expansion Act could be used to require Catholic hospitals to permit abortions and Catholic human service agencies to counsel and refer for abortion. Failing to facilitate abortion could be found to be “discrimination” under the law, and professionals like social workers and counselors could lose their licenses. Forcing providers to promote abortion is yet another way that this legislation could be used to expand abortion.
AREN’T MOST STATES MOVING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION, TO RESTRICT ABORTION?
Yes! More and more states are enacting sensible limitations on abortion. Thirty-eight states now require parental involvement in a minor’s abortion decision, 33 states follow the lead of the federal government and prohibit most taxpayer funding of abortion, and 35 states have specific informed consent laws for pregnant women seeking abortion. States are now moving to require ultrasounds prior to abortion and to prohibit abortion in later stages of pregnancy.
And it is precisely because states are increasingly limiting abortion – and courts are allowing them to do so – that abortion lobbyists in New York State wish to embed an unlimited right to abortion in state law. They want to go back to the most unfettered, unrestricted abortion policy in the world (Roe v Wade) rather than accept the new realities of medicine and law. In the 40+ years since the Roe decision of 1973, ultrasound technology has opened up a virtual window on the womb, advances in neonatology have changed our understanding of “viability,” and in utero surgery has become commonplace. Subsequent court decisions (such as Webster v Reproductive Health Services in 1989 and Casey v Planned Parenthood in 1992) have empowered states to place reasonable regulations and restrictions on abortion for the benefit of both moms and their unborn children.
WHAT DO THE POLLS SAY ABOUT ATTITUDES REGARDING ABORTION?
Public opinion polls reveal that Americans remain conflicted about abortion, but the vast majority (80% according to Gallup and other polls) oppose late-term abortion and believe it should be prohibited by law. New Yorkers, like the rest of the country, oppose unlimited abortion through nine months of pregnancy and support significant restrictions on abortion (McLaughlin and Associates, 2013).