By CARA MATTHEWS
Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY - Groups on both sides of a bill to update New York's 40-year-old abortion law are pressing their members to contact lawmakers in the final days of the session.
Several religious groups and the state Conservative Party oppose the legislation, saying it would harm women and children. Pro-choice organizations say that it's past time to update the abortion law, which was adopted three years before the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.
The bill, first proposed by then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer in 2007, is in committee in the Assembly and Senate and could get to the floor of each house for a vote before lawmakers end session. The legislation would move the regulation of abortion from the criminal code to the public-health code, guarantee a woman's right to control her own reproductive health and use or refuse contraception, and allow third-trimester abortions if a woman's life or health is in danger or the fetus is not viable. Unlike Roe v. Wade, New York's law protects a woman during pregnancy only if her life is in immediate danger.
The New York Catholic Conference opposes the measure, spokesman Dennis Pouse said. "This is part of Eliot Spitzer's legacy to the state. It was political payback to abortion advocates for their support," he said. Poust said the bill's recent introduction in the Assembly - on June 17 - has the conference concerned some kind of deal has been worked out.
Assembly sponsor Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan, said the budget process delayed introduction of the bill. She said the legislation would codify the Roe v. Wade decision into state law. The "overwhelming majority of New Yorkers" support it, she said.
"The bottom line is that pro-choice people believe that individuals - women - in consultation with whomever they choose to discuss this should be free to make appropriate decisions for their health and life," she said.
The bill doesn't restrict women's ability to choose to bring their pregnancy to term, "and anybody who says otherwise is simply lying," she said.
According to the Catholic Conference, the bill would allow non-physicians to perform abortions, force hospitals to allow abortion and thwart efforts to have parents involved in their children's abortion decisions. Poust said the bill doesn't provide "conscience protections" so physicians and hospitals opposed to abortion don't have to provide the procedure.
"The conscience protections are an act of Congress that are easily dropped, especially with an administration and a majority of Congress that are hostile to a pro-life position," he said.
As for who can provide abortions, practitioners would not be able to perform outside their scope of practice, said Senate sponsor Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers. "I think it is extremely clear that this is not about forcing anyone to do anything," she said.
Proponents may say the legislation won't interfere with conscience protections, but "It basically opens up the door for that kind of thing," said Jim Harden, president of CompassCare in Rochester, which provides medical services to women facing unplanned pregnancies.
Harden said he is concerned people who are not licensed physicians would be able to provide abortions under the state bill, and it would provide females of any age access to contraception.
"This is a classic example of why the government shouldn't get involved in medical issues. It's not a medical issue, it's a political agenda," he said.
The Roe v. Wade decision guides women if their pregnancies go awry or if they become sick and an abortion is an option to protect their health, according to Family Planning Advocates of New York, the lobbying arm for Planned Parenthood.
If something were to happen at the federal level related to Roe v. Wade and the state legislation hadn't been enacted, New York wouldn't have a health exception, said M. Tracey Brooks, president and CEO of Family Planning Advocates.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York said the state can't rely on federal protections provided by Roe v. Wade. The group said 450 bills that would ban or restrict abortion have been enacted around the country. Challenges could reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kelli Conlin, president of NARAL in New York, said the inconsistency between state law and the federal decision has led to confusion among doctors, lawyers and hospital administrators who are concerned about possible prosecution. In the past three years, at least 90 pregnant women in dire health situations have traveled out of state for abortion care, she said in a statement.
The state Conservative Party, which opposes abortion, said in a statement that the state should be "getting out of the abortion business" instead of "expanding the 'right' to abortions."
Democrats for Choice opposes the bill because it "contains broad language that would open the door to extreme measures that will harm women and children," Leslie Diaz, a spokeswoman for the group, said in a statement.
Gannett ContentOne - Albany, NY