N.Y. Lawmakers and Activists Speak Out for Abortion Rights and Reproductive Justice: “If We Cannot Control Our Own Bodies, There Is No Democracy”

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Rep. Carolyn Maloney (center left) and Gloria Steinem (center right) outside Planned Parenthood Manhattan Health Center in New York City on Monday, Dec. 6. (Instagram)

“If we cannot control our own bodies, there is no democracy. That is the requisite of every democracy,” said Gloria Steinem at a press conference organized by Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) with New York political leaders and reproductive rights advocates in front of Planned Parenthood Manhattan Health Center in New York City on Monday. 

“Reproductive rights are no longer being chipped away at—they are being bulldozed straight into the ground,” said Maloney.

The press conference followed the Supreme Court’s oral arguments last week in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization—a case involving a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that threatens to overturn constitutional abortion rights in the United States established almost 50 years ago in Roe v. Wade.

“The time for action—for a bold platform to fight back against this conservative assault on reproductive rights—is now. We must fight for reproductive justice by protecting and expanding access to abortion, birth control, and all forms of reproductive health care,” said Maloney, who outlined a platform for action to shore up women’s reproductive rights. 

Maloney called on Congress to pass the Equal Rights Amendment to enshrine women’s equal rights in the Constitution, the Women’s Health Protection Act to create a federal right to abortion health care, the EACH Act to permanently eliminate the Hyde Amendment and restore insurance coverage for abortion, a House Resolution affirming equitable, science-based policies governing access to the abortion pill, and the Access to Birth Control Act to require pharmacies to provide customers requested birth control without delay or harassment.

ERA Coalition president Carol Jenkins explained why the Equal Rights Amendment is so important to reproductive rights. “When a constitutional right relied upon for a half a century could be summarily withdrawn, we are confronted once again with how precarious our rights and protections are. We were intentionally left out of the Constitution.”

“The Equal Rights Amendment may be the only thing that can save us,” Jenkins continued. “The Senate must vote now to remove the time limit on the ERA to let the women of this country know we all are, indeed, equal under the law.”

In addition to the Mississippi abortion ban, the event was organized to call attention to the Supreme Court allowing the Texas 6-week abortion ban to stand, now in effect for over three months despite clearly violating women’s constitutional abortion rights as established in Roe v. Wade and Casey v. Planned Parenthood.

As an abortion provider in New York City, I already see patients who travel from Texas and other states to access abortion. No one should have to leave their community to access abortion care,” said Planned Parenthood of Great New York chief medical officer Dr. Gillian Dean. “We cannot be complacent and hope the courts will protect us while abortion access hangs on by a thread. Congress must take bold action and pass the Women’s Health Protection Act and the Access to Birth Control Act.”

State senators Alessandra Biaggi, Brian Kavanagh and Jessica Ramos spoke about what they were doing to support abortion rights in New York, including passing the Reproductive Health Act in 2019 to guarantee abortion rights in the state.

“As the fate of reproductive rights hangs in the balance, New York has a responsibility to step up in this moment and be a national leader in expanding abortion access. Reproductive justice is more than securing the right to abortion—it is about breaking down systemic roadblocks to accessing that right, by creating laws that remove social and economic barriers to all kinds of reproductive care,” said Biaggi, who spearheaded legislation to create the New York Abortion Access Fund, which provides funds for people who cannot afford abortion health care.

Three city councilmembers spoke—Carlina Rivera, Christopher Marte and Tiffany Cabán, who connected abortion rights to broader reproductive justice issues.

“The core of the fight for reproductive justice is the same as all of our liberation struggles. It is about freedom from control, coercion, and exploitation—namely of the most vulnerable and marginalized communities,” said Caban. “If banning abortions were about genuine care for human life, then the same people trying to take away our reproductive rights would also be fighting just as hard to give people the resources to parent. You can’t separate this fight from the Black mortality rate, the pipelines to mass incarceration and deportation. These are all reproductive justice issues. We need access to affirming, free and safe abortion care as a human right.”

Representatives of religious groups also spoke out for abortion rights at the press conference. “Reproductive freedom is religious freedom. Those who invoke ‘religious liberty’ to block access to contraception and abortion are violating our constitutional rights,” said Andrea Salwen Kopel, president of the National Center of Jewish Women New York.

Noting that the majority of Catholics support abortion access, Catholics for Choice president Jamie L. Manson argued that “Catholic social justice values compel us to advance reproductive justice and health equity—from abortion care, to gender-affirming health services, to birth control and more. People of faith in the halls of Congress and in the pews have a moral responsibility to speak out against the extreme fringe beliefs of the so-called Religious Right and declare that reproductive justice is a blessing.”

NOW New York president Sonia Ossorio sounded an alarm. “Make no mistake, the future of reproductive freedom in the United States is in grave and imminent danger. Federal protection for this fundamental human right may soon come to an end.”

“Women’s political activism has never been more important. As voters, we can send a clear and loud message at the ballot box that our rights to full autonomy, to deciding when to become parents is non-negotiable. We also demand access to this healthcare, expanded birth control, affordable childcare, and protections for pregnant workers.”  

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman professor in the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. You can contact Dr. Baker at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @CarrieNBaker.