Governor Cuomo Will Propose Legislation to Protect Abortion Rights

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Photo: Chris Hondros/2010 Getty Images

Governor Cuomo is "putting the finishing touches" on legislation that would guarantee women the right to late-term abortions if their health is at risk or if the fetus is not viable, the New York Times reports. Cuomo's plan would replace current New York law, which allows women to terminate pregnancies after 24 weeks only when their life is in jeopardy. While the local law is not enforceable because of federal rulings intended to protect pregnant women's health even when they are not in danger of dying, abortion advocates say that the policy's existence still makes doctors hesitant to perform late-term abortions, forcing some women to travel outside the state for the procedure. Additionally, the governor's proposal "would also clarify that licensed health care practitioners, and not only physicians, can perform abortions. It would remove abortion from the state’s penal law and regulate it through the state’s public health law."

At a time when most new women's healthcare legislation is aimed at limiting access to abortions, Cuomo's plan — which represents the fulfillment of a vow he made during his January State of the State Address — puts New York on the forefront of the national battle for reproductive rights. As a Cuomo aide reminded the Times, the move is not just a symbolic one: "Why are we doing this? The Supreme Court could change." A challenge to Roe v. Wade is looking more and more likely, and the governor's effort is designed to hold up in case the federal right to an abortion ceases to exist.

In order to become law, the proposal — which has not technically been made public yet — needs to get through New York's legislature. The Times says that the chances of that happening are "uncertain." While the Democrat-heavy State Assembly will likely support the measure, it might not pass the Republican-controlled Senate. That body's GOP leader, Dean G. Skelos, recently insisted to reporters that "nothing is going to change" when it comes to abortion laws.  "You could have an abortion up until the day the child would be born, and I think that’s just wrong," he said. But the Senate's Democrat leader, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, expressed optimism about the bill's prospects. "New York State’s abortion laws were passed in 1970 in a bipartisan fashion," she said. "It would be a sad commentary that over 40 years later we could not manage to do the same thing." Sad, but definitely not impossible.