6/13/13

For Religious Right, Women's Equality Act = Abortion

The religious right, galled that New York State has fewer abortion restrictions and greater access to the procedure than nearly any other American state, seeks to pull the abortion plank out of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed Women's Equality Act.

Perhaps to ensure access to the procedure in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the Roe v. Wade decision, Cuomo's proposed legislation would protect the decision, by a woman and her doctor, to terminate her pregnancy after 24 weeks if her life is in danger.

In fact, Cuomo's legislation does nothing more than affirm Roe v. Wade, which provides that a possibly viable fetus may be aborted after 24 weeks if the mother's life or health is at risk.

Some states have flouted Roe v. Wade by outlawing late-term abortion under all circumstances, which has unleashed a wave of lawsuits.  Cuomo's proposal would affirm the Roe v. Wade standard against that backdrop.

You would think, given the heat coming off the religious right, that late-term abortion is a significant problem. In fact, less than 2% of abortions are performed after the 21st week of pregnancy.  90% of abortions are performed within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

For abortion rights activists, the Cuomo bill affirms New York's heritage of women's rights. The state legalized abortion before it became a federally-protected right under Roe v. Wade, and has resisted imposing the kind of restrictions on abortion access increasingly common in other U.S. states. It does not subject women to mandatory waiting periods, parental consent or ultrasounds, and is one of the few American states providing Medicaid coverage for abortion.

That fact helps explain why New York has more abortion providers per capita than other states, and an abortion rate -- about 39 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15-44 in 2008 -- nearly double the national rate.

13% of all U.S. abortions are performed in this state.  While 30% of U.S. counties have no abortion provider, only 7% of New York counties have no provider.

Since the 1980s, the number of abortion providers in the U.S. has fallen by 40%. In parts of the American South and Midwest, it is now harder to get an abortion than at any time since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973.   In four American states, there is not a single abortion provider.

The dramatic loss of abortion providers nationwide, and the denial by most American states of Medicaid coverage for abortion has driven desperate women to back-alley practitioners like Philadelphia's infamous Dr. Kermit Gosnell.

In recent years, the anti-abortion lobby -- whilst trying to get a Roe v. Wade-killing case before the U.S. Supreme Court -- has succeeded in passing new state laws that make it more expensive and time-consuming for a woman to get an abortion, and getting new zoning laws and regulations passed making it harder for abortion providers to stay in business.

American Governors like Cuomo, seeing the progress the anti-abortion lobby has made nationally in restricting abortion access, might well seek to strengthen state laws that protect abortion rights as a hedge against the loss of federal protections.

Until now, the anti-abortion lobby has left New York alone, but late term abortion could be the wedge the religious right has been looking for:  79% of pro-choice Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy. 

The religious right was up in Albany yesterday [LoHud.]

They got to Cuomo. He changed the abortion language in the bill to suit them, in hopes of getting the 10-point legislation passed.  But passage still looks unlikely. [NY 1.]

The article from Time.

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