After two hours of heated debate, North Hempstead Town Board Democrats voted to continue a hearing on the repeal of a 50-year-old section of town code that allows only hospitals, facilities administered by a hospital or facilities affiliated with a hospital to terminate pregnancies.
The vote to continue the hearing to Sept. 1 was approved 4-2 along partisan lines with Supervisor Jennifer DeSena absent due to what was said to be a longstanding family commitment.
Deputy Supervisor Joe Scalero presided over the meeting in DeSena’s place, but he was not able to vote per town code.
Town hall was filled with residents, activists and public officials. More than 30 spoke on both sides of the issue during public comment.
“This is about standing up for women. This is about standing up for our rights to make decisions for ourselves,” state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) said. “This is about sending a message that we will always stand up for women in the town of North Hempstead.”
Kaplan thanked Democratic Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey for introducing the measure while criticizing DeSena for not attending the meeting.
“I would have hoped as a woman that she would have been here to stand up for us,” Kaplan said. “Residents of the Town of North Hempstead have the right to know where she stands.”
DeSena said in a statement she supports the repeal of Chapter 41A.
“Although I was unfortunately unable to be there in person tonight to cast my vote due to a long-standing prior family commitment, I support the repeal of this chapter and would have voted yes for it, as it brings North Hempstead’s Town Code into conformity with state law, and removes a chapter of our code which is unenforceable and superseded by the New York Public Health Law.”
The local law was adopted on Aug. 10, 1971, one year after the state Senate legalized abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy and two years before the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, which permitted abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy in the United States.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe, ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the U.S. Constitution does not grant a right to abortion.
In 1971, more than half of the 16,593 women that had abortions on Long Island used nonhospital clinics in Nassau County, according to The New York Times.
At the time, North Hempstead had limited abortion access to only hospitals along with the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach, the towns of Hempstead and Oyster Bay and the Suffolk County towns of Babylon and Suffolk, according to The New York Times.
State Assemblymembers Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) and Gina Sillitti (D-Port Washington) also spoke in favor to repeal Chapter 41A of town code called “Pregnancy Termination Facilities”
“Women today do not have equality so long as abortion is illegal,” Lavine said. “Only nations that have second-class citizens are second-class nations. New York is not going to be a second-class state and the United States is not going to be a second-class nation.”
Sillitti spoke on the need for local municipalities to take the matter out of upper levels of government.
“In my opinion, there has been a slow assault on women’s rights across our country,” Sillitti said. “With the Supre Court’s decision, the courts have said women don’t get to decide what happens with their bodies, instead it leaps into the hands of state legislatures who decide the fate of women.”
Robert Zimmerman, a Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District candidate, said although 41A is unenforceable due to state law, repealing it would make sure it can never be applied.
“We all know too well that laws can be modified, governments change and all of a sudden Chapter 41A can be used as it was intentionally meant, to harass women and make it more difficult for them to seek health care,” he said.
In 1972, New York’s Appellate Divison issued a ruling in Robin v. Incorporated Village of Hempstead that invalidated a similar law to North Hempstead’s.
Dr. Kathleen Gaffney, the former commissioner of the Nassau County Health Department from 1994 to 2000, said a repeal would signal to women they have access to quality care.
“Pregnancies can be very high risk and access to safe medical care is essential to assure the best outcomes,” Gaffney, a Williston Park resident, said. “I hope you assure by this action you will let everyone know they have access to the highest quality sexual and reproductive care in North Hempstead.”
Many residents spoke against the repeal on the grounds of a safety net for both the mother and the child, touting the oversight hospitals and hospital-affiliated facilities provide the ability for emergency room treatment if something goes wrong.
“You don’t have to be a Christian to be against the repeal of 41A, you have to be for human rights,” Jim McHugh of New Hyde Park said. “You have to believe that a woman has a right to a safe procedure.”
Residents echoed similar sentiments while questioning the desire to have reproductive health clinics in their villages, such as Planned Parenthood.
“I’d like to ask why in light of the escalating violence in this nation why anyone would favor rescinding a law a keeps abortion mills out of their neighborhoods,” said Bette Russo of Port Washington. “We need a completely new mindset and need to become a culture of life, not a culture of death.”
Democratic Councilmember Robert Troiano called for a motion to continue the hearing, which had gone on for hours, to the Sept. 1 meeting.
He was opposed by Republican David Adhami who alluded to previous meetings where Republican motions to continue hearings were rejected by the Democratic majority.
Troiano told Adhami that on previous motions to continue hearings, Adhami was aware two weeks in advance of the agenda items and could have sought more information in advance of the meeting.
“Tonight is a different instance. Here we have information given to us from residents of the town and they want us to reflect on that,” Troiano said. “I’d like the opportunity to talk to residents, which I did not have two weeks to do so, and make a decision.”
At the June 7 town board meeting, Democrats, who make up four of the seven-person board, voted not to continue the public hearing to confirm new election districts in the town.
Troiano was supported by Democratic Councilmembers Peter Zuckerman and Lurvey, who both said they would like more time to speak with residents and hear more voices.
The next Town of Nort Hempstead Town Board meeting will be held Thursday, Sept. 1.