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Lawmakers pass bill to strengthen abortion rights

State lawmakers Tuesday approved legislation that strengthens abortion rights in New York.

The state Senate passed the Reproductive Health Act in a 38-24 vote.

Though abortion was already legal in New York, the Reproductive Health Act expands access in several ways. First, the new law permits abortions after 24 weeks in cases where “there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health,” according to the bill.

The new law permits licensed healthcare practitioners to perform abortions and removes references to the procedure from the state penal law.

Previously, only physicians could administer abortions. Supporters of the bill said the change would benefit women in rural areas who may not have access to a doctor.

According to the bill, “reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, is a fundamental component of a woman’s health, privacy and equality.”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo celebrated the bill’s passage Tuesday night as he signed it into law in Albany.

“This was a long, long haul,” he said.

Though the state Assembly had passed the act before, it stalled for more than a decade in a Republican-controlled Senate.

Local representatives Senator Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) both voted against the measure.

“My primary concern with [the law] is the fact that it repeals all abortion-related crimes from the penal law,” Mr. Palumbo said in a phone interview Wednesday. “If a pregnant woman gets robbed, a guy knocks her to the ground and she miscarries the child, that would have been manslaughter before this law was enacted,” he said. “Now it’s a robbery or an assault.”

When Democrats took control of the Senate in November, Gov. Cuomo vowed to pass this legislation within 30 days of the new legislative session.

He said the federal government is intent on reversing Roe v. Wade, which recognized a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.

“We should not have a federal government that is trying to roll back women’s rights to a point 50 years ago,” the governor said.

He ramped up the fight to pass the bill after Brett Kavanaugh was appointed to the Supreme Court. “Today’s [Supreme Court] decision on the military ban for transgender … that 5-4. You’re gonna hear that over and over and over again,” Gov. Cuomo said Tuesday evening.

Jan. 22 marked the 46th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, and the governor was joined by Sarah Weddington, who argued the case in Texas in 1973 when she was 26 years old.

Mr. Palumbo said that his personal position isn’t relevant. “The Supreme Court has spoken and abortion is legal. Women do have a right to choose up to 24 weeks,” he said.

The idea of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade is a “red herring,” the assemblyman added. “It would be left to the states if Roe v. Wade was overturned. I can’t imagine from 2019 forward that New York would pass a law that would make abortions illegal. I think it’s more political posturing.”

Gov. Cuomo also floated the idea of protecting abortion rights under the state constitution. It would require voters to weigh in on the idea and make it more difficult to overturn. 

“With the signing of this bill, we are sending a clear message that whatever happens in Washington, women in New York will always have the fundamental right to control over their own body,” Gov. Cuomo said.

Senate majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said New York is leading the way on women’s rights. “Today we’re reaffirming that women have a voice and women have a choice,” she said.

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