On the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a historic act that further protects women’s reproductive rights. And yes, some people are outraged. However, the outrage is a small price to pay for the health of women who may not be equipped—physically, mentally or emotionally—to carry a fetus to full term. The Reproductive Health Act states that a healthcare practitioner may perform an abortion if: “the patient is within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
Roe v. Wade guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion after 24 weeks if her life or health was at risk while allowing states to restrict abortion laws under a certain set of circumstances. New York’s law before the Reproductive Health Act allowed a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks if, and only if, her life was at risk. The act now allows a woman to have an abortion if her life or mental or physical health is at risk, according to the act, and allows doctors to decide whether or not a woman’s health is at risk. Roe v. Wade should have guaranteed this right, but New York never caught up.
Here’s the thing: No matter how hard I argue either side, few opinions are likely to change on abortion. But one thing that we must understand is that as long as abortion is still legal, and it should be, this law is absolutely vital.
Before its existence, a woman in New York could not get an abortion after 24 weeks if her health was at risk. Carrying a fetus around that you know will not survive birth, or that you know will impact your health significantly, can understandably be extremely traumatizing and potentially prolong the grieving process. Imagine being forced to carry around a fetus that you know may risk your health substantially. And although late term abortions are rare—roughly one percent, according to the Guttmacher Institute—that small portion of women still needs this law to protect them.
Not only will it protect them, but women will no longer have to travel thousands of miles to another state in order to receive an abortion that they should already have had access to. Erika Christensen’s story is exactly why this is important. At 31 weeks pregnant, Christensen was told that her baby was “incompatible with life” and would not survive outside of the womb, according to The New Yorker article “How abortion law in New York will change, and how it wont.” Christensen lived in New York state at the time that she wanted the abortion before the RHA, but because her life was not in jeopardy and the laws limited her, she had to travel to Colorado where abortion was “essentially regulated like any other medical procedure,” according to the New Yorker article.
The act also decriminalizes late-term abortion, according to the legislation. Before the act, performing a late term abortion when the mother’s life was not at risk, was considered a felony. Now doctors have the ability to make a professional judgment without faces criminal charges. This act has been a huge win for women and their reproductive rights and is something that should have happened the second that Roe v. Wade was decided.
A considerable amount of people have misunderstood this law for women getting an abortion a day before her due date, just because she feels like it. This is not the case at all. A woman cannot get an abortion after 24 weeks in the state of New York, unless a health professional deems it medically necessary. Up until 24 weeks, a woman has the fundamental right to an abortion for any reason she sees fit. But like I said, late term abortions are rare.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention abortion surveillance in 2015—the last year the study was done— reported that the total number of abortions from 2006 to 2015 decreased 24 percent and the overall abortion rate decreased 26 percent. Despite this, New York’s abortion rate still remained twice the national average, according to syracuse.com. This is yet another reason why the act remains so important.
A safe abortion is a right that every woman deserves to have access to. If abortion became illegal, unsafe abortions would skyrocket, and so would the death and injury of thousands of women. The protections of Roe v. Wade must be available to every woman in every state, without limitations.