New York state to protect abortion providers under new laws

New York has expanded legal protections for people seeking and providing abortions in the state under legislation signed by Gov. Cathy Hochhol on Monday.

The Democratic governor demanded passage of laws in anticipation of the US Supreme Court’s overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established a constitutional right to abortion. A ruling that could weaken or end abortion protections is expected as early as this week, and abortion providers fear New York will see an out-of-state population increase.

“Today, we are taking action to protect our providers from anti-abortion state retaliation and to ensure that New York will always be a safe haven for those seeking reproductive health care,” Hochul said.

Out-of-state residents accounted for nearly 9 percent — or 7,000 of about 79,000 abortions — performed in New York in 2019, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s up from 5 percent — or roughly 4,700 out of 93,000 — in 2015.

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A new law protects abortion providers from arrest, extradition, and legal action in other states by preventing New York state and local courts and law enforcement agencies from cooperating in most scenarios.

Under another law, people can file lawsuits for unlawful interference with their right to reproductive health care when other people or entities bring civil or criminal charges against them for seeking, accessing, or providing an abortion.

And while patients can receive virtual care, another new law will prevent insurance companies from taking action against health care providers in New York who perform illegal reproductive services elsewhere.

The state health commissioner will also study the unmet health needs of pregnant women and the impact of unlicensed centers that provide some pregnancy services and persuade women not to have an abortion.

Laws protecting abortion providers are effective immediately.

Within 90 days, another new law will begin allowing abortion providers and patients to participate in an existing government program that allows people to protect their address.

The National Abortion Federation says death threats against abortion providers doubled from 92 in 2019 to 200 in 2020.

Hochul also plans to award abortion providers $35 million to expand services and enhance security for abortion providers due to an expected Supreme Court ruling.

Lawmakers enshrined Roe v Wade into state law in 2019, and Hochul wants to enshrine it in the state constitution.

The state constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “race, colour, creed, or religion.” Civil liberties groups and abortion providers have proposed an amendment that would prohibit discrimination on the basis of factors ranging from “pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes” to gender and gender identity.

Any amendment must be ratified by the legislature within two years of a legislative session before it is sent to the electors.

Lawmakers will likely need to start the process in August to send it to voters in 2023.

“I can’t say it’s going to happen, but I am open minded,” Hochhol said Monday.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said “right-wing” critics are dragging their feet, arguing that the proposed amendment would infringe religious liberties.

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