State Senate must protect reproductive health care

Access to abortion and contraception is threatened. Will NY act?

The state Senate is threatening the rights of women by refusing to include Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s women’s agenda in its proposed budget. With President Donald Trump promising to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade and his allies in Congress repeatedly trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, now is the time for New York to pre-emptively protect the rights that could be lost by these and other potential changes to federal law.

Both Cuomo and the Assembly recommitted to advancing women’s reproductive rights in their own budgets, including provisions to codify Roe v. Wade into state law, expand access to contraception and improve sex education across the state. It would also address the unacceptable rates of maternal mortality in New York, which ranks 30th out of 50 states as well as suffering from significant racial and ethnic disparities resulting in black women being nearly four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth compared to white women.

But the state Senate does not include any of these in its budget, the most important policymaking process in state government. As a result, reproductive health, rights, and justice in New York are on the chopping block.

New York’s abortion law is nearly 50 years old – older than the Roe v. Wade decision itself. This outdated law forces women to leave the state to seek abortion care later in pregnancy, and threatens women who end their pregnancies on their own with prosecution. Women who don’t have access to a provider, lack money to pay for an abortion, are fearful of interacting with the medical system because of their immigration status, or a host of other reasons, may perform their own abortions – and under New York law, those women risk prosecution and jail.

The budgets proposed by the governor and the Assembly would fix these flaws in state law. By choosing not to include these basic provisions in its own budget, the state Senate has opted to move us backward.

New York has also failed to codify affordable, no-copay access to birth control – a hard-fought provision of the Affordable Care Act that enjoys approval from voters. Yet the ACA doesn’t cover contraception well enough and the contraceptive mandate is at constant risk of disappearing at the federal level.

Cuomo and the Assembly both included the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act in their respective budgets, which would ensure access to no-copay contraception as well as improved availability of emergency contraception. By leaving the CCCA out of its budget, the state Senate is missing another critical opportunity to ensure every woman, regardless of her economic status, has access to the full range of reproductive health care services.

With a president and federal government that are increasingly hostile to women, it’s up to the states to safeguard our access to reproductive care. Across the country, states are showing they will stand up to Trump on women’s rights: In 2017 alone, states passed 86 bills protecting reproductive rights.

Now more than ever, it’s necessary for states to serve as a bulwark against the federal government’s incursion into our health, rights and freedom. What we need now is for the state Senate to reverse its position and stand up for what’s right: protecting the autonomy and safety of women in New York.

Update: This piece has been updated to clarify that while Gov. Cuomo and the Assembly both support the Reproductive Health Act, only the Assembly’s budget contained that bill while the executive budget had different language addressing the issues with New York’s abortion law.