N.Y. Gov. Cuomo Preparing Legislation To Expand Abortion Access

February 19, 2013 — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D) pledge to enact legislation to ease abortion restrictions in the state runs counter to the trend in many Legislatures of curbing abortion rights, the New York Times reports.

Cuomo is putting the "finishing touches" on the legislation, which is known as the Reproductive Health Act and will be part of a proposed 10-point Women's Equality Act. The reproductive health measure would ensure a right to an abortion later in pregnancy if a woman's health is at risk, in contrast to a current state law that bans the procedure after 24 weeks unless a woman's life is in danger. Although the law is not enforced, abortion-rights advocates have said it "has a chilling effect" on doctors and prompts women to travel out of state when they need an abortion later in pregnancy.

Cuomo's bill, which has not been publicly released, also would update New York's law so it could stand alone if the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the federal protections currently available under Roe v. Wade. Additionally, it would allow licensed health care providers who are not physicians to perform abortions and shift abortion out of the penal code and into the health code.

National Landscape

Abortion-rights groups have promoted similar measures in statehouses across the country, yet only seven states -- including California, Connecticut, Maryland and Hawaii -- have enacted similar laws. Instead, state lawmakers in the last two years have passed more abortion restrictions than in any other two-year period in decades, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

"Pretty much all of the energy, all of the moment, has been to restrict abortion," said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at Guttmacher, adding, "There's no other state that's even contemplating this right now." Last year, 19 states adopted 43 abortion restrictions, while no state adopted legislation to increase access to abortion or comprehensive sex education, according to Guttmacher.

Andrea Miller, president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, noted that the current level of government interference in women's health care decisions is "extraordinary." She added, "For New York to be able to send a signal, a hopeful sign, a sense of the turning of the tide, we think is really important" (Kaplan, New York Times, 2/16).