NEW YORK—New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, vowed to push through the state legislature a Women’s Equality Act before the current legislative session ends on June 20. The act, he said, would include a provision to expand the legality of late-term abortions.
In the wake of late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell’s grisly trial, opponents of Cuomo’s proposal are hoping political support for the measure will evaporate. Gosnell was convicted of not just murdering three babies after they were born but aborting 21 babies after Pennsylvania’s legal limit of 24 weeks of pregnancy, when babies are considered viable to survive outside the mother. Gosnell’s trial highlighted Pennsylvania’s lack of oversight of abortion centers, and Cuomo’s proposal could relax regulations on abortionists further in New York, a state that already has few abortion limits such as waiting periods or bans on public funding of abortion.
Cuomo hasn’t introduced his promised legislation yet, but in his January State of the State address he named the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) as one point in the Women’s Equality Act agenda. The standalone RHA is a few votes shy of passing in the state Senate, so Cuomo will likely make some tweaks to try to gain support from Republicans.
Pro-life groups noted that Cuomo demonstrated his ability to flip votes when the state legalized same-sex marriage. These groups are concerned that because Cuomo will be wrapping the abortion expansion in his broader Women’s Equality Act, which will include measures like protections for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking, it has a better chance of passing.
The RHA would legalize an abortion at any point in the pregnancy when the mother’s health or life is in danger. The “health” exemption for abortions often receive a broad legal interpretation that includes mental, emotional, and psychological health. Current U.S. Supreme Court precedent allows for abortions for the sake of the mother’s health or her life at any point during a pregnancy, but states (like in the case of Pennsylvania) can still enact laws against late-term abortions.
The RHA also redefines viability of a baby to mean when a baby can survive without “extraordinary medical measures.”
Further, the bill would remove criminal penalties for late-term abortions, moving regulation of abortion from the criminal code to the public health code. Criminal penalties would remain in place for abortionists who injure or kill the mothers. The bill says that for legal purposes, abortion would be treated like any other medical procedure.
A Cuomo official told The New York Times that passing this legislation is an insurance in case Roe v. Wade were ever overturned.
Republican state Senate President Dean Skelos, who leads a majority coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, opposes the RHA. He said on Monday that Gosnell’s guilty verdict was evidence that abortion regulations shouldn’t be relaxed. The proposal, he said, would “open the door to similar horrors.”
New York’s current law resembles Pennsylvania’s, banning abortions after 24 weeks except when the mother’s life is in danger. Still, New York has one of the highest abortion rates in the country. In New York City, 41 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, almost twice the national average.
The governor’s office hasn’t responded to a question about when Cuomo will introduce his proposed legislation.