By Christina Yao
The state of New York’s Reproductive Health Act was signed by the governor, Andrew Cuomo, and turned into law on January 22 of this year. This law comes at a time when pro-choice Americans are preparing for the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Previous to the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), New York had not amended its abortion law since 1970, when it was declared that abortion is legal up to 24 weeks. The previous law only allowed abortions after 24 weeks when the mother’s life was in danger. What then is the drive and controversy behind the RHA of 2019?
The new law removes certain restrictions on later abortions. Women can now terminate their pregnancies if it benefits their health or if the fetus cannot survive outside the womb. It is up to the abortion provider’s judgement to determine if an abortion is necessary for the mother’s health (“health” is left undefined), and whether the fetus can survive outside the mother’s womb. The RHA also moves abortion regulations from New York’s criminal code to the health code. This means there is no threat of criminal prosecution if an abortion regulation is broken. Furthermore, the RHA allows nurses, physician assistants, and midwives to perform abortions.
One reason the RHA is getting so much attention is that many see it as a potential indicator of the legislative agenda other states may pursue. Signed on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the bill was celebrated as a safeguard against a conservative Supreme Court. Gov. Cuomo of New York instructed that the Freedom Tower be lit pink in celebration of the RHA, celebrating late-term abortion. Missouri, Louisiana, as well as North and South Dakota have moved in the other direction, passing laws that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. In 2018, a total of 15 states placed restrictions on abortion.
There is similar legislation to the RHA within the Virginia state congress, where abortion would be allowed past the age a fetus can survive outside the womb. Virginia delegate. Kathy Tran, introduced a bill reducing restrictions on third trimester abortions. Currently in Virginia, third trimester abortions are only allowed if three doctors agree that a woman’s health would be ‘substantially’ or ‘irremediably’ impaired. Tran’s bill reduces the number to a single doctor’s approval—the doctor performing the abortion. The bill also allows third trimester abortions for any impairment on the mother’s physical or mental health. In addition, the bill is left intentionally vague creating less restrictions on when a third trimester abortion can be obtained. Tran said the bill would allow women to even receive abortions while they are in labor.
The New York and Virginia state laws both stress the importance of late-term abortions for the health of the mother or fetal abnormalities, but the Guttmacher Institute reports that most women who obtain late-term abortions do not have them for medical reasons. Some physicians argue that it is never better to have a late-term abortion. In actuality, an emergency C-section is faster and safer for the mother, and does not involve killing the fetus. Abortion can also never cure a fetal abnormality—instead it ends the life of a fetus with an illness or disability.
New York’s RHA shook pro-lifers and other individuals across the nation. Some see this as an opportunity for pro-lifers to make a statement about the ethics of any abortion, not just late-term ones. Part of this contingent was a group of pro-life advocates in Lorton, Virginia who came together on Saturday, February 2 to protest the introduced RHA legislation in Virginia. Delegate Tran was scheduled to have a meeting to discuss her bill at South Bend high school that morning, and various pro-life groups collaborated to organize a protest. The meeting was first arranged elsewhere then rescheduled, but the protest went on. A large group gathered outside the high school and listened to speakers’ call them to action. This group was a good representation of the pro-life movement and its many branches: a pregnancy center had a table asking for volunteers, the Susan B. Anthony List gave out free donuts and coffee, while discussing the need for pro-life politicians, and volunteers passed out flyers advertising the first ever Virginia March for Life in April. Young people, families, and seniors gathered to stand up for life.
One notable conversation I had while in attendance was with a woman who appeared to be very different than me. While I’ve lived in Maryland my whole life, she lived close by in Virginia. In addition, she looked to be about 50 and was wearing a Trump hat, while I am 24 and just ordered “Impeach” stickers. During our conversation, she said this was her first pro-life rally ever, and I’ve miss more school for protests and rallies than I care to admit. But we were both there for the same reason: because we felt like we had to stand up and do something. We couldn’t just sit by while someone called for such a human rights abuse.
I smiled at the woman and said “Don’t let this be your last rally!” She replied that she definitely would be back to stand up against injustice. There will be more events coming up to protest late-term abortion, such as both the Virginia and New York Marches for Life. Additionally, Maryland’s March for Life is in just a few weeks, and I look forward to attending. I also plan to participate with my local 40 Days for Life, which is in front of a late-term abortion clinic. In these seemingly small ways, hopefully pro-lifers can get their voices heard and stand up against the injustice of late-term abortion, as well as make it clear that all abortion is violence.
This article originally appeared in Volume 7 Issue 1 of Life Matters Journal.