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August 20, 2019

The Reproductive Health Act is extreme pro-abortion legislation

January 22, 2019
Anti-abortion activists protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life in Washington on Friday. (Jose Luis Magana / AP)

Gone are the days when the pro-choice mantra was to keep abortion safe, legal and rare. The Reproductive Health Act, which is on its way to passage in New York, would repeal numerous provisions intended to protect women and maximize their health, restricting the legal options of women coerced into abortion and eliminating provisions intended to provide medical care and legal protection to babies mistakenly born alive following failed abortions.

Let’s be clear: The RHA is not a simple codification of Roe v. Wade, as advocates claim. Rather, the legislation has components that should be disturbing to pro-choice and pro-life individuals alike.

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Currently, the state’s penal code defines “justifiable abortion acts” as being performed with a woman’s consent by a licensed physician within 24 weeks of pregnancy, or when the act is necessary to preserve her life. The proposed legislation would repeal this definition and effectively decriminalizes all abortion — at any time of pregnancy, for any reason.

If this legislation passes, women suffering from coerced abortions will have less justice for the violation of their bodies and the lives of their unborn babies, as the very term “abortion” will have been eradicated from the penal code. For instance, if a pregnant woman is physically assaulted, prompting a miscarriage or the death of her unborn child, the assailant could currently face felony charges.

If the RHA passes, she would only be able to pursue assault charges. She would not receive justice for the violent death of her fetus. This potentially re-victimizes victims of domestic violence and sex-trafficking by removing crucial prosecutorial tools currently in place for holding traffickers and abusers accountable for the coercion and violence they inflict on pregnant women.

Simultaneously, the RHA would usher in a broad health exception for late-term abortions. This is despite the fact that the Guttmacher Institute reports that New York already has an abortion rate of 29.6 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (ages 15-44), twice the national average (14.6).

The RHA also violates the rights of babies born alive from botched abortions. Currently, Public Health Law (PHL) 4164 ensures babies born alive from failed abortions are afforded legal protections and immediate medical care. Yet, in a simple, terse statement, the RHA repeals PHL 4164, in full.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies are sometimes born alive during attempted abortions. For instance, in 2011, the CDC recorded 1,298 cases of infant death in the U.S. that were due to “other perinatal conditions,” which includes ICD-10 category P96.4, death subsequent to a failed “termination of pregnancy.” This statistic only reflects babies that were born alive from attempted abortions and then passed away. It does not encompass the babies that survived.

Public health mandates that ensure babies born alive following attempted abortions are given immediate medical care, such as the one the RHA would repeal, are vital in preserving the lives of such children. With the revocation of PHL 4164, it is unclear whether babies born alive from failed abortions would receive any medical attention at all.

The same Public Health Law requires late-term abortions occur in hospitals. According to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology on the risk factors associated with legally induced, abortion-related mortality, the “risk of death” for “women obtaining legally induced abortions…increase[s] exponentially by 38% for each additional week of gestation.” Advancements in medical technology have enabled premature babies to survive as early as 21 weeks and five days gestation, raising the question of whether the legal point of viability should be made earlier than the current 24 weeks.

By fully repealing the provision and failing to include language in the bill that at a minimum requires late-term abortions to occur in hospitals or at least in properly licensed outpatient facilities, the RHA jeopardizes women’s lives.

Why such precautions and legal protections are being revoked is unfathomable. Why reasonable abortion standards are being ignored is unconscionable. Neither the Assembly nor the Senate offer any legislative memo explaining why these policies are being rescinded or why abortion standards, such as parental notification, are not being offered.

As New Yorkers and women, we deserve better.

Bennett is a recent graduate of Cornell University. She is a board member of Feminists Choosing Life of NY.

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