Local officials gathered outside the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola Thursday, calling on municipalities throughout Long Island, including the Village of Williston Park, to repeal various abortion restrictions.
A week after the Town of North Hempstead unanimously voted to repeal longstanding legislation which limited the locations where pregnancies could be terminated, elected officials throughout the town and Nassau County urged other municipalities to do the same. Aside from the Village of Williston Park, other local governments with various restrictions include the Town of Hempstead, the Town of Oyster Bay, the Town of Huntington and the Village of Freeport.
“Nobody should be putting up barriers on a woman’s right to choose,” North Hempstead Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey said. “At the Town of North Hempstead, we repealed an antiquated and misguided restriction that placed an undue burden on individuals and medical professionals.”
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, 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 who had abortions on Long Island used nonhospital clinics in Nassau County, according to The New York Times.
State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) said it is “shocking” that more than one million Long Islanders live in an area where abortion rights are restricted. She urged other localities to follow in the footsteps of North Hempstead “and stand up for women and their right to choose.”
“If we’ve learned anything from the extremist Supreme Court’s reckless decision to steal our Constitutional right to choose, it’s that we can’t take anything for granted, and we’ve got to fight for our rights at every level of government, because clearly there are people who will stop at nothing to assert their control over women, and they’ll use every trick in the book to do it,” Kaplan said.
Williston Park’s local law also requires that any pregnancy termination “shall be performed only in a hospital duly licensed and accredited” by the state’s health department and have the equipment and facilities that would be deemed acceptable by the state’s Hospital Review and Planning Council, according to the village code.
If an unauthorized building is being utilized for pregnancy termination and has the equipment to conduct the procedure, according to the code, the village’s Building Department inspector will notify the property owner to cease and desist the use of the building. The village is also able to issue appropriate fines if either of the laws are violated, according to the code.
Village officials did not immediately respond for comment on the matter.
North Hempstead Attorney John Chiara said the town board’s vote was not necessary at the outset of the meeting in response to a request by Supervisor Jennifer DeSena to describe the local law, Chapter 41A, its history and how applicable it is today.
“There is no actual effectiveness, it is unenforceable,” Chiara said. “It is a law in the books that is contrary to state 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.
At the time, North Hempstead had limited abortion access just to 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 Times.
Since the law’s passage in North Hempstead, its applicability has been superseded by the New York State Public Health and education laws that overrule it, Chiara said.
Kaplan, during the town’s Sept. 1 meeting, criticized DeSena for her absence in August and the change in the reason she gave.
“Supervisor, I was disappointed that you weren’t able to be here last time because I know that so many of our residents are eager to hear whether or not you support a woman’s right to access an abortion in the Town of North Hempstead,” Kaplan said at the meeting.
Kaplan, who is running for re-election to the state Senate and previously served on the Town Board, later questioned DeSena’s claim that she missed the August meeting because she was on vacation.
“It’s worth noting that the Town of North Hempstead sets board meeting dates at the beginning of the year to avoid such personal scheduling conflicts, and Supervisor DeSena did not mention she had a conflict when the critically important item was added to the agenda for the August meeting,” Kaplan said.
Brian Devine, spokesman for the supervisor, said the scheduling for meeting dates differs from previous administrations.
“As has previously been reported, the supervisor had a longstanding prior family commitment out of state that was scheduled a year in advance. This is not new information, as this was included in Deputy Supervisor Scalero’s opening remarks on August 4th,” Devine said in a statement.
“The sad truth is that when this year’s board meeting schedule was crafted in December 2021, no one on the Town Board majority bothered to reach out to the newly elected supervisor or her transition team to gauge her availability for the potential dates being considered, which is in stark contrast as to how meeting dates were seemingly scheduled directly around the lives of the Town Board majority.”