New York and Massachusetts Legislation to Expand Access to Abortion

Massachusetts State House
Massachusetts State House

by Justin Schnebelen


On the 46th anniversary of the watershed Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which declared access to abortion a fundamental women’s right, New York and Massachusetts brought forward legislation which expands abortion access and confidentiality.


In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the Reproductive Health Act, which expands pre-existing abortion access to 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, wholly unrestricted. The bill also extends the window for abortions in circumstances where there is an “absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” The language in the bill mimics that of legislature in states like Massachusetts, which also allows abortion up to 24 weeks. By that stage of pregnancy, an unborn child is usually viable outside the womb.

Alongside the act was also a separate pair of statutes which mandates health insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives. Such statutes have been a concern in recent years for employers who object to contraceptives for religious reasons.


These pieces of legislature are massive victories for abortion activists like Cuomo, who, in a January 7 speech given alongside former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, warned New Yorkers that recently nominated Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh are plotting to upheave Roe v. Wade.


“Brett Kavanaugh is going to overturn Roe v. Wade. I have no doubt,” he insisted. Taken collectively, his recent legislation’s constitutional implications provide an added firewall, should the landmark case from 46 years ago be reversed.


Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany, NY, directly addressed Governor Cuomo’s pro-choice advocacy, condemning him for claiming to be Catholic while he continues to pass legislation which contradicts the Church’s respect for human life. Bishop Scharfenberger denounced many different aspects of the bill, including measures that would grant abortion licenses to non-abortionists and remove criminal punishments for killing unborn children.


“Granting non-doctors permission to perform abortions does nothing to advance the security and health of women,” he wrote in his statement. “Condoning coerced or involuntary abortions by repealing criminal sanctions[,] even in cases where a perpetrator seeks to make his partner ‘un-pregnant’ through an act of physical violence[,] does not represent any kind of progress in the choice, safety or health of women.”


He went on to criticize the part of the bill that removed protection for babies accidentally born during botched abortions. “[This] is abject cruelty, something most people of conscience would deem inhumane for even a dog or cat. …Allowing late-term abortions is nothing less than a license to kill a pre-born child at will. It is very difficult to understand how you can align yourself with Pope Francis and so vehemently advocate such profoundly destructive legislation.”


Meanwhile, on the same day, Massachusetts lawmakers put forward a bill titled “An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access”—a phrase they have shortened rather meaningfully to the ROE Act. At its core, the bill removes the necessity for parental consent for minors seeking abortions. Prior to the bill, minors could only have an abortion confidentially through the decree of a judge.


Pro-choice activists in the Boston community argue that the bill works in accordance with a mother’s right to privacy. Jennifer Childs-Rosack, president of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, contends that if the state trusts minors with the ability to acquire contraceptives, then abortion should be no different. Pro-life advocates, on the other hand, have strongly contested the bill. If it were to be passed, a minor acquiring a body piercing in the state would require parental consent, but a minor seeking an abortion would not.


Childs-Rosack argues that with the difficulty of many family dynamics, the conversation about whether or not to have an abortion can be impossible. Still, Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, argues, “The law is a great teacher, and anytime if the law is essentially saying we want to break down a relationship in the family, we want to impose ourselves, I think that’s very negative.”


In his statement on the New York legislation, Bishop Scharfenberger wrote, “If abortion is deemed a fundamental right in New York State, will the State then still be able to issue licenses to pro-life nurses or physicians? Will health facilities which do not provide abortions be certified? Will the law allow that even one dollar be given to maternity services without offering women the ‘choice’ of abortion? These are unanswered questions, but I shudder to think of the consequences this law will wreak.”


Adriana Watkins contributed to this article.

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