Explainer: New York removes barriers to abortion

January 25, 2019

What just happened?

On Tuesday, the 46th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, the New York legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act, a law that significantly expands abortion rights and removes protections for women and children.

The Assembly passed the legislation 92-47 while the Senate passed the measure 38-24. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on Tuesday evening.

What changes are made in the new law?

The Reproductive Health Act makes the following changes to New York state law:

Removes abortion from the criminal code: A 1970 law made third-trimester abortions a matter of criminal law. Under Section 125.00 of the penal law “homicide” was defined as “conduct which causes the death of a person or an unborn child with which a female has been pregnant for more  than  twenty-four  weeks.” The Reproductive Health Act removes the language as it applies to unborn children.

Loosens the requirement for who can be an abortionist: Previously, only licensed physicians were allowed to conduct abortions. The Reproductive Health Act now allows licensed nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and midwives to also perform abortions.

Allows late-term abortions: The new law allows licensed health-care practitioners to perform abortions to use their “reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient’s case” to conduct abortions within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or if there is an “absence of fetal viability,” or if the practitioner considers the abortion “necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”

What are the possible effects of the new law?

The new law removes important protections for both mothers and children.

For example, the Act states that, “Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures performed in the United States.” Even if this were true, the deregulation of the procedure will make it likely that those with less skill and training will now be performing abortions on vulnerable women.

Removing abortion from the criminal code will also make it difficult, if not impossible, for prosecutors to bring criminal charges in cases of forced abortion, which can occur during domestic violence cases when a woman loses a child during pregnancy. “It is unconscionable to think that anyone would deprive a pregnant domestic violence victim the justice she deserves,” said Sen. Cathy Young.

The change may also affect babies outside the womb. New York public health law previously mandated that a viable infant born alive following an abortion performed after 20 weeks’ gestation “be accorded immediate legal protection under the laws of the state of New York. . . ” But as Jason J. McGuire of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms notes, the new law withdraws legal protection from such infants, making it legal for them to be denied treatment

Prior versions of the legislation also included conscience protections for institutions or health care professionals whose beliefs do not allow them to participate in abortion. But the new law makes no such accommodations, and because of its broader scope, could affect a broader range of health care practitioners.

Why are they changing the law now?

Democrats in the New York legislature have attempted to pass the Reproductive Health Act in each session for most of the past decade, but were blocked by Republicans in the state senate. The election in November gave the Democrats a majority in the Senate, allowing them to push through this legislation.

How many abortions are conducted each year in New York?

In 2014, the most recent year for which data is available, New York reported 119,940 abortions. The state’s abortion rate of 23.1 per thousand is twice the national average, and about 25 to 27 percent of pregnancies in the state end in abortion. 

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is the author of The Life and Faith Field Guide for Parents, the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible, and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator. He also serves as an executive pastor at the McLean Bible Church Arlington location in Arlington, Virginia. Read More