New York removes abortion from criminal code
On the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case enshrining abortion rights into federal law, New York leaders updated the state’s laws on abortion, which predate even Roe.
The state Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act in a 38-24 vote. The Assembly passed it, too, and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo immediately signed it into law, according to the Associated Press.
“Our abortion laws, once groundbreaking, are now almost 50 years old,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan, who sponsored the bill. “It shouldn’t have taken this long to get to this day.”
The debate on the bill, which protects the right to abortion and removes abortion from the criminal code, was overseen by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul.
The fact that the bill removes criminal penalties for abortion drew a somewhat unusual line of protest from members of the minority Republican Senate caucus. While many Republican senators spoke against the law on traditional pro-life grounds, several of them also said that the Reproductive Health Act would remove protections for pregnant women who are subjected to domestic violence.
Before the vote, Senate Republicans held a news conference with Livia Abreu, an Army veteran from the Bronx who was stabbed by her ex-boyfriend while pregnant, resulting in the loss of the baby. Her attacker faces charges of criminal abortion, charges that would be removed under the Reproductive Health Act.
Krueger fielded questions on this issue on the Senate floor from Sen. Patricia Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, before the vote.
“It’s a medical procedure; it should have never been in the criminal code,” Krueger said. “This is a health care service and should be in the health care law.”
“Do you think individuals who assault pregnant women should be held accountable?” Ritchie asked Sen. Krueger.
“I think anyone who attacks anyone should be held accountable,” Krueger responded.
Krueger said charges of first-degree assault carry heavier penalties than criminal abortion anyway, and that any sentences for abortions would be concurrent to longer sentences for assault.
Ritchie also asked about the expansion of who is able to perform abortions — under the new law, physician’s assistants, registered nurses and midwives who are certified to perform abortions by the state can. Krueger said all abortion providers would have to be certified by the state.
After fielding questions from several Republican senators, the vote began. Many senators on both sides took the opportunity to rise and address their vote, with many Democrats thanking Krueger and many Republicans voicing their opposition.
“I don’t believe this legislation is necessary, and I’m very concerned about some of the ways this legislation was drafted,” said Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury.
Other Republican senators took strident pro-life positions during their votes. With a heavy majority in the Senate, however, the future of the bill was hardly in doubt.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins voted last. She pointed to the statements of President Donald Trump that he would like to see Roe v. Wade repealed and said the legislation is necessary to protect abortion rights in that event.
“Today we’re saying no; we’re saying not here in New York,” she said. “Once again, we’re leading the way.”
Speaking to the concerns of the Republicans, Stewart-Cousins said she appreciated their views.
“I understand you feel the way you do,” she said. “Nobody takes this lightly; no one thinks these decisions are easy.”
With the passage of the law, Stewart-Cousins said, that decision can be made with women and their health care providers without interference from the government.
The Republican caucus was joined by Democratic Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. in voting against it along with Sen. Simcha Felder, a registered Democrat who caucuses with neither party.
Local elected Republicans opposed the act.
“I cannot support a measure that expands late term abortions, allows non-medical doctors to perform abortions and removes safeguards we have in place to ensure someone who commits violence against a pregnant woman, harming her unborn baby, feels the full weight of justice,” wrote Ritchie in a statement.
Assemblyman Ken Blankenbush, R-Black River, sent out a statement Tuesday afternoon voicing his opposition.
“The governor and Assembly Democrats claim that the Reproductive Health Act merely codifies Roe vs. Wade,” he wrote. “That simply is not true. This is an extreme bill that would expand access to late term abortions up until the moment before birth. I couldn’t support it.”
Also on Tuesday, the Senate passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, which requires insurance plans to cover all Food and Drug Administration-approved forms of contraception with exceptions for religious organizations.