On Jan. 22, the 46 anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed new measures expanding abortion rights into law.
The bill was first introduced to the New York Assembly in 2006 but has not been taken up by the Senate until now after Democrats won control of the Senate during the 2018 midterms.
The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) allows women seeking an abortion to access care without restriction until 24 weeks of pregnancy. The law also allows a woman to seek an abortion after 24 weeks; however, only if the life or health of the mother is at risk, or if the fetus is not viable. Previously, abortions after 24 weeks were only allowed to save a mother’s life.
The bill has also removed abortion from the criminal code, making it a public health issue. The RHA allows nurse practitioners and midwives, not only licensed physicians, to perform non-surgical procedures, greatly expanding access to care.
“This is a major victory for women and families in New York, and sends a powerful message across the country reaffirming a basic truth: Every woman deserves the fundamental right to choose if, when, and how to grow her family,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America Vice President Adrienne Kimmell in a statement.
In recent years, advocates for reproduction rights have mobilized nationwide around state-level abortion protections. This comes at a time where, both nationally and locally, reproductive rights are being rolled back.
“We celebrate today’s victory knowing that it would never have been possible without the tireless work of tenacious volunteers and countless activists, as well as the persistence of leaders in the state government,” said NARAL New York Action Council Director Hannah Smolar in a statement.
The New York law has stirred controversy around the country. Critics believe that the bill is too far reaching and “extreme.”
“When you use the term ‘health of the woman,’ that’s very elastic. That has been defined as mental health, she’s depressed she doesn’t feel good that day. We know what’s going on here. This is abortion through term,” said Bill Donohue of the Catholic League to CBS New York.
Deborah Glick, a member of the New York Assembly, responded also in CBS New York: “I appreciate and respect the concerns of rights of religious people not to have an abortion, but they do not have the right, in a democracy, to impose their religious tenets on the rest of us.”
Glick also posited that, “[p]regnancies that are carried beyond the six-month point are clearly wanted pregnancy. If something goes seriously wrong, women should not have to risk their health or their life to travel out of state in order to receive an abortion.”
Proponents of the bill believe that the RHA is an important win at a time when abortion rights are uncertain.
“That moment where they actually, on a national level, might reverse women’s rights is here,” said New York Senate Majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, according to WNYC. “Today, in New York, we are saying no.”