By Tom Strode
ALBANY, N.Y. (BP) – New York may have re-established itself as America’s leading abortion state by enacting a law that critics say goes beyond even the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) into law Jan. 22 shortly after the state legislature completed passage of the controversial proposal. Enactment of the legislation came on the 46th anniversary of the high court’s decision striking down all state bans and legalizing abortion throughout the country.
The new law legalizes abortion until birth for the mother’s “health,” which is not defined and has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include, in essence, any reason. The measure also enables non-physicians – midwives, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants – to perform non-surgical or chemical abortions. In addition, it protects abortion performers by moving abortion law from New York’s criminal code to its health code.
The new law not only puts pregnant women at risk, but it is so radical it permits infanticide by eliminating protections for babies who survive an attempted abortion and by removing fetal homicide penalties, according to Americans United for Life (AUL), a pro-life organization that focuses on legal issues.
If the Supreme Court were to overturn the Roe opinion and return the issue to the states, New York’s law would remain in effect.
“The Empire State’s new abortion bill is alarming in every sense,” said Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments for Baptist Press. “This bill stripped all possible legal protections for children past 24 weeks in the womb.”
AUL President Catherine Glenn Foster called the law “extreme,” saying in a written statement it “de facto permits infanticide of the sort that notorious Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell was convicted [of] only recently.”
Christina Fadden, chair of New York State Right to Life, described the law as “inhumane.”
“RHA has made abortion a ‘fundamental right’ and prohibits all limits on abortion. … RHA has expanded abortion-on-demand in New York past 24 weeks – well past when unborn children feel pain, are viable, and suffer during the course of an abortion – and up to birth,” Fadden said, according to National Right to Life News Today.
Cuomo, who had promised passage of the measure in the first 30 days of the legislative session, said in a written statement, “With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control their own body.”
The governor has said he wants the law to be added to the state constitution.
Laura McQuade, president of Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC), said in written remarks, “This is a historic day in New York and we are thrilled to see our legislation catch up with our progressive values in building the state our communities can thrive in.”
Abortion rights advocates have expressed concern the Supreme Court may reverse Roe with the addition of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh as associate justices since President Trump took office.
The New York Senate had prevented passage of such a measure for more than a decade while it was controlled by Republicans. Democrats gained the majority, however, in the November election. The Senate voted, 38-24, for the bill, while the Assembly approved it in a 92-47 vote.
When the Senate passed RHA, many observers in the gallery cheered and gave the members a standing ovation. A seven-second video posted by PPNYC on Twitter went viral with many pro-lifers declaring their angst over the response.
Moore told BP, “The scene in the New York Senate chamber highlighted this horror as the abortion industry applauded lawmakers further codifying the culture of death. The applause in that chamber should remind us of the importance of the work before us as we engage our neighbors with the Gospel. The church will not be deterred from speaking up for those the world wants to silence.
“My prayer is that some of those who cheer ghastly injustice as we saw this week might be awakened to the reality of life in the womb and, even more importantly, of the possibility of everlasting life in Christ,” Moore said. “Maybe, like the Apostle Paul, some of those now cheering the destruction of the vulnerable may one day be the most powerful witnesses for the sanctity of every human life, born and unborn.”
New York legalized abortion in 1970, and New York City became the abortion capital of the country as a result, drawing thousands of women from other states for the procedure.
While the Supreme Court struck down state laws in its Roe decision in 1973, a companion ruling – Doe v. Bolton – had the effect of legalizing abortion “on demand,” as pro-lifers have described it. In Doe, the high court provided an exception from state regulations of abortion for “maternal health,” which it defined as “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.”
The Supreme Court affirmed Roe in a 1992 opinion but also ruled states may regulate abortion to protect the lives and health of women.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.