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Advocates: Time to Fix NY's Antiquated Abortion Law

New York law currently can force a pregnant woman to carry a nonviable fetus to term. (Pexels)
New York law currently can force a pregnant woman to carry a nonviable fetus to term. (Pexels)
May 24, 2017

NEW YORK - Legislation to allow women in New York to get later abortions if their fetus isn't viable faces an uncertain future in the state Senate.

The current law, written before the Roe vs. Wade decision, only allows abortions after 24 weeks if a pregnancy endangers the life of the mother.

Erika Christensen learned at 30 weeks that, because of a rare medical condition, her baby would die soon after birth. As she wrote in a commentary for the website Rewire, news such as that forces women in New York to make painful decisions.

"If they're able to afford care, they're forced to find that care outside of state at their own expense," she said, "and this also means it's not covered by insurance even though it is medically necessary."

The Reproductive Health Act, which would allow abortions after 24 weeks if a fetus isn't viable, has cleared the Assembly. However, advocates for the bill are concerned that it may not get a vote in the Senate.

New York's current abortion law is a criminal statute, and as Katherine Bodde, a policy counsel with the New York Civil Liberties Union pointed out, it is more restrictive than Roe vs. Wade, which does allow later abortions if a fetus cannot survive.

"The Reproductive Health Act removes abortion from the penal code," she said, "and it creates an affirmative provision in our public-health law that reflects the standard of Roe."

Although no one in New York has been prosecuted for following Roe in performing an abortion after 24 weeks, doctors and hospitals are reluctant to run that risk.

Both the Senate majority leader and the chair of the Senate Health Committee are conservative Republicans who can stop the Reproductive Health Act from reaching the Senate floor. However, as Christensen pointed out, they don't have to vote for it themselves.

"What I do expect is that it's given the chance to be debated and given a vote," she said. "At this point, that's really where our effort is concentrated. Just bring it to the floor and give it a vote."

The legislative session ends in five weeks. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has expressed his support for the bill.

The text of the act, Bill S2796, is online at nysenate.gov.

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This article was produced in partnership with Rewire.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY