By Caroline Bennett
Gone are the days when the pro-choice mantra was to keep abortion safe, legal, and rare. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget would repeal numerous provisions intended to protect women and maximize their health, restricting the legal options of women coerced into abortion and eliminating provisions intended to provide medical care and legal protection to babies mistakenly born alive following failed abortions.
Currently, New York’s penal code defines “justifiable abortion acts” as being performed with a woman’s consent by a licensed physician within 24 weeks of pregnancy, or when the act is necessary to preserve her life. The proposed legislation (Women’s Article VII, S.7511/A.9511 of the proposed Healthcare and Medicaid Budget for 2018-2019) repeals this definition and effectively decriminalizes all abortions — at any time of pregnancy, for any reason. These proposals are archaic, extreme, and are bound to have negative consequences that our legislators apparently haven’t foreseen. If this legislation passes, women suffering from coerced abortions will have no legal recourse whatsoever to receive justice for the violation of their bodies and the lives of their unborn babies, as the very term “abortion” will have been eradicated from the penal code.
Moreover, this legislation would undoubtedly increase the abortion rate, including late-term abortions after 24 weeks. Advancements in medical technology have enabled premature babies to survive as early as 21 weeks and five days gestation, raising the question of whether the legal point of viability should be made earlier than the current 24 weeks.
Therefore, on what medical or legal grounds would statutes restricting abortion to 24 weeks (excluding dire circumstances in which the mother’s life is at risk) be removed from New York law?
The proposed budget would also violate the rights of babies born alive from botched abortions. Currently, Section 4164 of the Public Health Law mandates that when abortions are performed after 20 weeks’ gestation, a physician other than the one performing the abortion must be present in case the baby is born alive, ensuring immediate medical care is provided to the baby without diverting medical attention from the mother. These babies are also afforded legal protections under this article. Yet in a simple, terse statement, Section 4164 is repealed in the proposed budget. With the revocation of these mandates, it is unclear whether babies born alive from failed abortions would receive any medical attention at all, raising the question of whether this amendment permits infanticide.
Why such precautions and legal protections are being revoked is unfathomable. Neither the Assembly nor the Senate offers any legislative memo explaining why these policies are being rescinded. Subtly removing crucial legal protections regarding abortion from the penal code in an otherwise favorable budget is unacceptable and unfair to the people of New York. At minimum, the controversial abortion provisions should be removed. We as taxpayers, New Yorkers, and women deserve better. Unfortunately, it looks like we are going to have to demand these changes if we want our “public servants” to actually serve us.
Caroline Bennett is a senior at Cornell University and a board member of Feminists Choosing Life of New York.