You might be seeing headlines like this in your Facebook feed:
You might be seeing images of adorable babies in your feed with captions such as “In New York, it is now perfectly legal to murder me.”
If you’re not from New York — or even if you are — you might be wondering what on earth the New York State Legislature has just passed. Killing healthy, full-term babies? Yikes.
If you take a closer look at the actual wording of the law, called the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), it’s actually quite easy to dismiss all of the fear-mongering and bad faith arguments against it.
Democrats in New York State have wanted to pass this legislation since 2007. The Democrats’ big victories over Republicans in the New York State Senate finally provided them with the votes. In light of the increasingly conservative direction of the Supreme Court, particularly after the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, Governor Cuomo and the Democrats were also fearful that Roe V. Wade could eventually be overturned and wanted to preserve its protections in state law.
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law this week after it was overwhelming passed in the the Democrat-controlled State Senate and Assembly.
The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) calls for three major changes in New York State law:
- It takes abortion out of the criminal code and put it into the public health code, thereby decriminalizing late-term abortions. In New York, it had been a felony to perform a late-term abortion, unless the health of the mother was at risk. Mothers who required late-term abortions would need to travel to a different state for these procedures. In New York State in 2016 (the last year when statistics are available), about 2.3% of all abortions occur during or after the 20th week. Nationwide, about 99% of all abortions are performed before 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- It also allows for late-term abortion if the life of either the mother or the fetus is threatened. Previously, late-term abortions had only been legal if the life of the mother was at risk. The law states that abortions can now be performed when a mother’s health or life is at risk or when a pregnancy is no longer viable. (Here’s the text of the law about when an abortion can legally be performed: “According to the practitioner’s reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”)
- It expands the health care professionals who can perform abortions to include not only physicians but also highly trained nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician’s assistants.
Now let’s break down the scare tactics of the law’s critics.
First, they claim that the Reproductive Health Act will lead to unrestricted, late-term abortion on demand. (The anti-choice website LifeNews calls the law “a radical pro-abortion bill that would allow unborn babies to be aborted for basically any reason up to birth.”)
This is only true if you do not trust medical professionals to make informed, professional decisions for which they have been extensively trained and licensed, in consultation with the women in their care. Do we honestly believe that doctors and other medical care providers will risk their licensure and professional lives to perform medically unnecessary procedures because pregnant women wake up one day at six months or seven months pregnant and decide that they don’t want to be pregnant anymore? Do we show the same mistrust of any other medical professionals who perform other medical procedures?
Second, critics argue that women’s lives will be put at risk because the law allows professionals other than doctors to terminate pregnancies. Other states, including California, authorize providers other than physicians to perform abortions, and when lawsuits have been filed to challenge this requirement, they have cited studies that show that abortions are equally safe whether they are performed by physicians, nurse practitioners, or other providers.
Third, they claim that this law — by removing criminal penalties for abortion — would strip women, including domestic violence victims, whose fetuses were killed in physical attacks, from seeking justice. However, assault charges typically carry longer and stricter punishments than the abortion penalties in the criminal code. According to Liz Krieger, the Senate sponsor of the Act, all of New York State’s domestic violence advocacy groups are supportive of the law because there are already many other strong criminal laws that can used to prosecute these attackers.
With Roe V. Wade increasingly in jeopardy, our country needs laws like this to guarantee reproductive rights at the state level.
All of us must stand up against attempts to mischaracterize laws like this, as well late-term abortions in general. These cases are personal, highly individual, human tragedies. They should not be used as weapons to further the political aim of taking away reproductive choice.
As Dr. Jennifer Conti of Stanford University, an OB/GYN, explains, “Abortions that occur at this stage in pregnancy are often the result of tragic diagnoses and are exactly the scenarios wherein patients need their doctors, and not obstructive politicians.”
This week, in addition to the mistruths, you may have seen other stories on your Facebook feed: the stories of women who have had to make the agonizing choice of ending a desperately wanted pregnancy.
One such woman, Destiny Young, bravely shared her experience this week in a viral Facebook post.
She writes: “After having 2 miscarriages, I almost died giving birth to my stillborn daughter. She had a genetic problem that was not compatible with life outside of the womb. We had no idea until she died at 32 weeks…
I’m 15 weeks pregnant now and if we find out that this baby has the same genetic issues as our last then we will be faced with the difficult decision of terminating the pregnancy or again possibly almost dying giving birth to a stillborn baby.
So I just wanted to show you who this law is for. It only allows for late term abortions of babies that are going to die anyway or for pregnancies that might kill the mother.
This law is for the women who have been struggling for years to have a healthy baby, only to find out at the end of their pregnancy that their baby won’t survive, or that if they continue the pregnancy they will probably die. This law will give women a little bit of control of something so horrible happening to them. This law will save lives of women like me.”
Listen to these mothers. These women are who this law is for.