After two hours of heated debate, the North Hempstead Town Board voted unanimously Thursday to repeal a 50-year-old section of the town code that limited where pregnancies could be terminated to hospitals, facilities administered by a hospital or facilities affiliated with a hospital.
The public hearing, which drew 25 comments, was a continuation of a two-hour hearing in which Town Board Democrats voted 4-2 along party lines to push the vote to Thursday night.
Republican Supervisor Jennifer DeSena did not attend the August meeting, saying she had a “long-standing prior family commitment”, leaving Deputy Supervisor Joe Scalero to lead the meeting, but without any voting power.
On Thursday, DeSena revised her explanation, saying she was in Delaware with her family on vacation.
State Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills), who spoke in favor of repealing the law, 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 long-standing 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.”
Town Attorney John Chiara said the board’s vote was not necessary at the outset of the meeting in response to a request by 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.
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.
Since the law’s passage in North Hempstead, its applicability is superseded by the New York State Public Health and education laws that overrule it, Chiara said.
Many residents and Democrat Councilwoman Veronica Lurvey expressed the need to repeal Chapter 41A because of the November election for governor and the uncertainty that may come with not knowing who will win.
“I would like to point out that nobody knows who the governor will be at the end of the year,” Lurvey said. “The new governor, whoever that may be, may decide to change state law regarding abortions and medical procedures.”
In July, state legislature passed the broad state equal rights amendment wich added explicit protections for New Yorkers to access abortion care. The move was a major step toward amending New York’s constitution.
marks the first major step in a multiyear process to amend New York’s constitution.
During the vote, Democrat Robert Troiano said the pro-repeal side was able to provide more data on their positions as opposed to assertion and anecdotal evidence.
“While I have been persuaded by the sincerity of both positions tonight,” Troiano said. “I am not persuaded by the arguments. I’d like to say that I believe that a woman’s right to choice extends to tonight. I vote aye.”
DeSena also voted yes, explaining it takes an outdated law off the books.
“I support the repeal of this chapter and vote 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 next North Hempstead Town Board meeting will be on Thursday, Sept. 22.
A previous version of this article was published. It has since been updated.