Women’s health care is under threat by President Donald Trump. First, it was the appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court; now, it’s the rollback of the birth control mandate under Obamacare — and one can only fear what the future holds.
That’s why New Yorkers have to take advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity this November to fully protect the rights of women in the state. On Election Day, voters can vote yes to hold a constitutional convention and make women’s reproductive rights and access to health care a part of the state constitution.
Despite its liberal reputation, New York is surprisingly out-of-date when it comes to a woman’s right to choose. In fact, as noted last year by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the state’s antiquated abortion restrictions are out of sync with the Supreme Court’s decisions in Roe v. Wade and subsequent cases.
The discrepancy is with late-term abortions, or those occurring after 24 weeks into a pregnancy. In New York, a late-term abortion is only permitted if the mother’s life is in danger, whereas the Supreme Court has ruled that termination after 24 weeks is allowed if the mother’s health is in danger. This is a significant difference that leaves health care providers and patients in a gray area and has forced New York women to travel to other states out of fear of violating state law.
New York also regulates abortion under its penal code, instead of the health code, meaning that a violation of this law can be subject to jail time and steep fines. A late-term abortion involves a heart-wrenching decision that is borne out of the most difficult of circumstances. We should be supportive of the women in these situations — we shouldn’t be treating them like criminals.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has recognized the need to update New York’s laws to better meet the needs of modern-day women. He has mandated that insurers provide free coverage for birth control and medically necessary abortions. And in January, following Trump’s inauguration, he proposed a state constitutional amendment protecting a woman’s right to choose, recognizing the threat to women posed by the Trump administration.
These announcements heartened women across New York, but we have yet to see any action. Efforts this June to expand these protections went nowhere when the Reproductive Health Care Act stalled in committee. With the gridlock in Albany and Republican control of the Senate, there is a little hope for change. In the increasingly volatile federal political climate, New York women remain vulnerable. We must look for other solutions.
The answer lies in a state constitutional convention. Through a convention, New Yorkers can update our reproductive health laws — bringing them in line with other states. Encoding these changes within a constitutional amendment would mean that women will forever remain protected despite any federal political decisions.
In 1970, New York’s abortion law was revolutionary, but it has fallen behind and no longer affords adequate protection of women’s reproductive rights. And we can’t rely on our lawmakers to make the updates we need.
The fate of this law now rests in the hands of all New Yorkers. Voting yes for a constitutional convention is voting for the continued rights and protection of your fellow citizens — the women of New York.