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Another Voice: Reproductive Health Act sets women back

By Michele Sterlace-Accorsi

Feminists, pro-life and pro-choice, can only applaud Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for recently signing into law better protections for sex-trafficked children, but disagree regarding the fate of the Reproductive Health Act.

Despite passing in the New York State Assembly since 2013, the RHA again died in the Senate this year. The governor, pro-choice groups and others are so disappointed they’re calling upon the Senate to reconvene to pass it. They're afraid of an overturned Roe vs. Wade, and claim state’s abortion law urgently needs modernizing, to transition from the penal to the public health law, “where it belongs.” They claim the RHA resolves the problem, in one fell swoop. Yet a closer look at the RHA reveals something different. The RHA potentially hurts and exploits women, and completely disregards unborn human life, facts the Senate, unlike the Assembly, apparently recognizes.

Since 1970, abortion has been statutorily legal in New York for any reason through 24 weeks of pregnancy. New York doesn't need 1973 Roe. We’re ahead of the curve on liberalized abortion laws, except for the lack of a broad health exception for late second and third trimester abortions. Broad health exceptions essentially permit late-term abortion on demand. The RHA contains a broad health exception. Modern U.S. Supreme Court decisions post-Roe, however, refrain from mandating broad health exceptions in bans on late-term abortion. Instead, they require “only an exception for preserving the life [which NYS law contains] or physical health of the mother.”

The RHA does not "simply codify" Roe. It discards seminal U.S. constitutional law permitting states to enact abortion laws protecting women’s health and unborn human life throughout pregnancy; these are fundamental standards, including those requiring: duly licensed physicians perform abortions; wait periods between the abortion decision and procedure; and parental notification where minors seek abortions. The RHA fails to require any wait periods or parental involvement. Instead, the RHA allows non-physicians to perform nonsurgical and surgical abortions. Polling data reveals 75 percent of New Yorkers oppose changing the law so someone other than a doctor can perform surgical abortions, 78 percent approve of a 24-hour wait period and 76 percent approve of parental notification for minors.

Finally, the RHA completely guts abortion from the penal code. The mantra: “Abortion is not a crime.” This blanket removal, however, potentially revictimizes victims of sex trafficking and domestic violence by depriving them of opportunities to prosecute their abusers for coerced abortions. Studies show both categories of females undergo coerced abortions. The RHA is sloppy and harmful. The RHA pushes women backward rather than forward by nearly half a century. Senate Republicans figured that out, along with lone Democrat Simcha Felder. New York already has an abortion rate – 29.6 percent – twice the national average of 14.6 percent. Women deserve better than the RHA.

Michele Sterlace-Accorsi is executive director of Feminists Choosing Life of New York.

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