By: Lauren Crain
Last night at Lenox Hill Hospital’s Einhorn Auditorium, New York State Assembly Member Dan Quart held a forum on Women’s Reproductive Rights. Fellow panelists included Caitlin Borgmann, CUNY Law School; Melissa Goodman, New York Civil Liberties Union; and Dr. Mary Beth Morrissey, Westchester Women's Bar Association.
The room fell silent as Ms. Borgmann detailed the current state of reproductive rights across the country. The amount of legislation introduced in state legislatures that sought to push or altogether eliminate the boundaries previously set by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding abortion regulations was record-breaking in 2011; in total approximately 1,100 pieces of legislation were put forward, obliterating the previous annual record. These measures included a 72-hour waiting period in South Dakota, the longest in the country, and the much-publicized trans-vaginal ultrasound requirement which proposed in the Virginia legislature.
While the threats to freedom and choice are real, the mood of the panel was not all doom and gloom. The panelists also discussed several important pieces of legislation currently under consideration in Albany, including the Reproductive Health Act, comprehensive sex education, a health benefit exchanges, and paid family leave. These measures would make New York a national model in the area of reproductive rights, a position all three panelists and Assembly Member Quart believes the state should hold.
The Reproductive Health Act in particular is of pressing importance, as there is currently no affirmative right to terminate pregnancy under New York law, and there is also no provision allowing the termination of late-stage pregnancies when the mother’s health is at risk. The current law, which is an exemption from prosecution in the penal code, rather than a protection in the public health law, only permits late-stage pregnancies where the mother’s life is in danger, falling short of the constitutional standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court. While these problems may seem abstract, Ms. Goodman spoke of the real life consequences of such silence in the law, as she fields calls from doctors and hospitals concerned about providing medical care for fear of criminal liability.
The panelist reiterated that not only was this law the right thing to do, it was also a popular initiative. Ms. Goodman referenced polling stating that 7 out of 10 New Yorkers support the Reproductive Health Act, a consensus which crosses political and religious lines. Assembly Member Quart affirmed up the popularity of this legislation, stating that, “7 out of 10 New Yorkers don’t agree on much.”