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Politics and Government

Supporters of women's reproductive rights in New York look to January

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled parts of his legislative agenda this week, including calling on lawmakers to protect abortion rights for women in New York

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo laid out his 2019 agenda earlier this week, he promised that a bill protecting abortion rights for New York’s women would become law by the end of January. Supporters say they are pleased that the measure may finally move, but they also say it’s not time to be complacent.

Cuomo said the threats to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade make it imperative that New York codify the abortion rights in the decision into state law. He predicted that President Donald Trump’s choices to serve on the high court will chip away at the ruling or try to overturn it altogether.

"The president’s nominees don’t even pretend to be objective jurists. They’ve already announced their intention to impose their morality on the nation and roll back Roe v. Wade," said Cuomo, who added he wants to pass the measure, known as the Reproductive Health Act, in the "first 30 days of the new session."

Robin Chappelle Golston with Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, the lobby group for the state’s Planned Parenthoods, said it would be a relief to finally see the measure become law after years of gridlock that prevented its passage in the state Senate. The chamber majority will pass from the Republicans to the Democrats in January. There are already enough votes for the measure to pass in the Democratic-led state Assembly.

"We would like to pass it as soon as possible," Chappelle Golston said. "Especially with the threats that are continuously coming down from the federal level." 

Abortion has been legal in New York since 1970, but Chappelle Golston said the current laws are outdated.

"It’s become very antiquated," Chappelle Golston said. "We do not have a strong state law to protect a woman’s right (to abortion)."

The nearly 50-year-old state law decriminalizes abortion procedures before 24 weeks of pregnancy. But it does not contain the protections under Roe v. Wade that also permit the procedure after 24 weeks if the health or life of the mother is threatened, or if the fetus is determined to be nonviable.

Chappelle Golston said even with the backing of Cuomo and Democratic majority leaders in the Legislature for the Reproductive Health Act, there are still what she views as a number of threats to women’s health brewing at the federal government level.

The Trump administration wants to prohibit health care providers who receive Title X funding from referring patients for abortions, known as the "domestic gag rule." The change also would mandate that pregnant patients undergo counseling for adoption and foster care options.

"I think there’s a real attempt to move backward for women’s health, and it’s really troubling," she said. "They are trying to make basic contraceptive and birth control pills controversial. Which is absurd."

Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts also backs a bill, known as the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act. That would guarantee low-cost access to contraception — including emergency contraception — for New York’s women. It’s also on the agenda for Cuomo and the Legislature next year.