New York’s legislative session is coming to a close—and reproductive rights activists are urging the legislature to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which would reform a state law that forces women to carry nonviable pregnancies to term, before they depart. New York is long overdue for important updates to its abortion law, which was written and passed before Roe. Forcing a woman to carry a nonviable pregnancy to term is extremely dangerous for both a woman’s physical and mental well-being.
Ms. spoke with Physicians for Reproductive Health fellow Dr. Marisa Nádas about the importance of passing the NY Reproductive Health Act—and how it would benefit not only patients, but healthcare providers as well.
Why is it so important to pass the Reproductive Health Act in New York?
“Passing this piece of legislation would bring New York’s abortion laws up to date. Currently, New York is stuck in the past and not covering some of the provisions that the federal law covers, such as later abortions for nonviable fetuses, or in the setting where the health of the mother is at risk. By updating its reproductive health law, it would allow New York to truly be a leader in terms of reproductive health. In some ways, it is. However, in other important ways, it is quite outdated. Particularly considering the current federal landscape, having protections under the state law that are already afforded in the federal law is extremely important at this time.”
What message would it send for the NY Reproductive Health Act to be passed, and thus grant women abortion rights not only at the federal level, but at the state level as well?
States have the power to protect the women of this country even when the federal government isn’t going to step up. States are faced with a choice to protect reproductive rights or not, and I think this is a very telling moment. By making the choice to secure reproductive rights in their state and not fall back on the federal law to protect women, it really says something about the priorities of individual states. It would show that they are taking a leadership role in protecting women’s reproductive rights. Furthermore, for an individual state to say “this matters to us and we’re going to make proactive changes,” sets an important precedent for other states.
How would the Reproductive Health Act benefit providers in addition to patients?
This act would move abortion law out of the criminal code and into the health code. The fact that abortion laws in New York are still in the criminal code can be a powerful deterrent for providers, or weigh on them as they’re making medical decisions. It is significant that a provider’s medical judgement is potentially subject to prosecution in the criminal code. Therefore, moving the abortion law out of criminal code and into health code where it belongs is crucial to providers being able to provide objective, non-judgemental, compassionate, and high-quality care to all women. Health care providers must be able to make medical decisions free of fear of prosecution.
Why is New York abortion law so outdated?
That is a good question considering New York’s progressive nature. Its abortion law was actually written in 1970 prior to Roe v. Wade. Its law was progressive for the time and made New York a leader in women’s rights and health, but it unfortunately hasn’t been updated for over 40 years now. This is why we are working so hard to rectify this in order for the legislation to match the times.
What do you consider to be one of the most important aspects of the new legislation?
Something very important is that it would explicitly protect other health care providers—meaning advanced practice clinicians, and not only physicians. At the time that the abortion law was written in 1970, medicine was much more limited to physicians only. But now it is almost 50 years later, and the field has changed drastically. We’ve come to recognize the capacity of a wide variety of health care providers, and our law needs to reflect that reality.
What can be learned from the fact that New York has taken this long to amend this abortion law?
An important lesson is that even in progressive states, there is far to go and there are improvements to be made. Women’s rights are far from secure. If New York is successful in passing this legislation, it would send the message that we all have a role to play in advancing women’s rights—even those of us who are already in a more progressive arena. It is easy in a state like New York for residents to rest on their laurels and think it is only the other states that need work. This is simply not the reality and we must continue to fight until every state, including New York, has a just and up-to-date abortion law.
Given the current political climate, how has your approach had to change in its efforts to pass the Reproductive Health Act? How has the mentality of resistance carried over to your efforts?
My efforts are impacted because women are more vulnerable and exposed with this administration, and this is translating into measures to increase access to abortion services at my hospital and other institutions around NYC. I personally have also felt much more exposed in the current political climate than I did in the past. This translates to a greater urgency for proactive measures and stronger bonds to like-minded people.