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New York’s Reproductive Health Act

Last January, New York State passed a bill that had been blocked by the Republican Senate for years, the Reproductive Health Act (S240 and A21). As every bill that addresses such a controversial topic, this act gathered a lot of praise and criticism from not only those in New York, but also people across the country. Since there is so much information going around, it is important to understand what the bill is actually trying to do. I encourage everyone to read the statute in order to form their own opinions on the matter.

In 1973, the Supreme Court issued their [in]famous ruling of Roe v. Wade. This ruling put the right to an abortion under the umbrella of right of privacy, which is in itself an interpretation of the Constitution that is not explicitly stated. That being said, without getting into the weeds of Constitutional Law, what is more important when comparing this New York law to Roe v Wade is what the Supreme Court of the United States did not say: abortion is a fundamental right. S240 does say abortion is a fundamental right — this exact language is used in the statute. This statute has made it clear that the decision is up to the person carrying the fetus to decide to carry to term or not. The statue also extends the ability to perform an abortion to medical professionals that are allowed to perform such procedures under the standing rules and regulations within the medical community and the state law.

The Centers for Disease Control and the Guttmacher Institute reported that slightly over 12% of abortions in the U.S. are performed after the 1st trimester. This makes “late-term” abortions (after the first trimester) very uncommon in the U.S., and are generally done only in extreme medical situations. The law allows the medical professional to abort a fetus after twenty-four weeks if “there is an absence of fetal viability or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health,” according to the bill.  This puts the life of the person carrying the fetus as more protected under Equal Protection than some people on the pro-life side have argued for. This is, once again, an increase in protection from the ruling in Roe v Wade, which allowed for equal protection after the first trimester.

This bill also changes other statutes that have charged manslaughter of a pregnant woman to a higher degree when the fetus is also killed. Now, in New York, the fact that the woman was carrying a fetus does not increase the charge, therefore not ruling as if the fetus were a human. There has been great debate about whether or not a fetus is a human being and when life begins, and there is still no clear answer. This bill has made it clear in both the areas of medical and criminal protections that the life of the woman is what should be valued the most. That being said, when a woman is induced into labor and this results in a live birth, the child will be afforded whatever medical care necessary to keep the child alive and will be afforded legal protections. This part of medical law has not changed with the recently passed bill, as a spokesperson for State Sen. Liz Krueger told Politifact after the bill’s passage. This misconception has been spread by many opponents, but people in the New York State legislator and the governor’s office have explained that after birth, children are protected. Many statements have been misleading people, especially on the side of opponents to the bill, so it is important to have these cleared up by the people who write and enforce these laws.