The debate over women’s reproductive health rights has taken center stage in state Senate races across New York, including the race for Long Island’s District 17.
The Republican majority has not brought the Reproductive Health Act, which decriminalizes abortion, to a vote for years. Whichever party takes the majority of the currently 31-31 split chamber in November can decide if the bill gets called to a vote.
Republican state Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill) said in a previous statement that she is pro-choice and “wholeheartedly” supports Roe v. Wade, but said that the proposed state bill “goes too far.”
Blank Slate Media reached out to Phillips for an interview to further discuss her views, but did not hear back from the state senator’s office.
The proposed bill would repeal criminal abortion statute and create a new section of public health law to regulate abortion. It also expands the law to allow nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants and other health care professionals to provide abortion services.
It would also include exceptions to abortion law to protect a woman’s health and for instances of fetal non-viability, in some cases into the third trimester.
In her statement, Phillips said the bill “threatens the health and safety of women by removing any restriction on late-term abortions, and allowing non-doctors to perform abortions which could jeopardize a woman’s health.”
Janet Dolgin, Jack and Freda Dicker Distinguished Professor of Health Care Law at Hofstra’s Maurice A. Deande School of Law, said the concerns about changes to the treatment of late-term abortions were unfounded.
Under current New York law, after 24 weeks exceptions are not made “unless there’s some evidence the mother would die,” Dolgin said.
The proposed bill would provide exceptions to situations where the mother’s health may be compromised, although it won’t “necessarily lead to her death,” Dolgin said.
Dolgin also said if nurse practitioners are not already trained in abortion, she assumes they would be if this law were passed.
The Reproductive Health Act would more or less keep the legal status quo in the state if Roe v. Wade were overturned, according to Dolgin.
“Would things be more liberal as it were if Roe were overturned and this law were passed? No, I think things in New York would be about where they are,” she said.
State Assemblyman Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) said in an interview that Phillip’s assessment of the bill is “completely unfair.”
“It hardly even ranks as an assessment,” Lavine added.
Lavine said that only health care professionals approved and certified by the state will be permitted to perform abortions.
“Sen. Phillips and others are claiming that chiropractors and even bus drivers will be able to perform abortions,” Lavine said. “That is a cruel and crude torturing of legislative language.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for senators to return for a special session to vote on the law, which he supports and has already passed in the Assembly.
Phillips was one of eight majority members Cuomo specifically called on in a digital ad launched last week to state their view, and come back to vote.
Phillips’ opponent, North Hempstead Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck) has publicly stated her support for the bill.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Kaplan said “we can not wait for Roe v. Wade to be overturned – we must codify Roe under New York law now! if elected, I won’t hesitate to vote yes on the Reproductive Health Act that modernized New York reproductive health law and follows Roe.”
In 1970, when New York passed its law, it was a far-reaching measure, Dolgin said, noting that it was the first state to allow for abortion before the 1973 decision of Roe v. Wade.
She added that the ruling has never limited any states ability to offer “wider rights that the Supreme Court says the constitution offers, they just can’t limit rights below what the Supreme Court offers.”
“In theory, if Roe had never been decided states could have begun to provide for abortion,” Dolgin said. “And there are people who say that would’ve been a better way to go, because it wouldn’t have become the major national cause … that it’s become.”
Lavine said he fully supports the bill and Cuomo’s demand that the Senate returns for a vote.
“It’s only a matter of time before the Trump court outlaws abortion,” Lavine said. “Our hope is that New York State constitution, which predates the federal constitution, is strong enough to be able to support a women’s right to determine her own health care.”
Reach reporter Rebecca Klar by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 204, or follow her on Twitter @rebeccaklar_.