On Tuesday, the New York State Senate passed three bills that aim to change the future of women’s reproductive rights.

January 25, 2019

Historic Reproductive Rights Laws Passed in New York

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On Tuesday, the New York State Senate passed three bills — the Reproductive Health Act, the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act and the Boss Bill — that aim to change the future of women’s reproductive rights.

Immediately signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), the Reproductive Health Act will expand abortion access to more New York State residents. The changes altered the language of a 50-year-old law and more closely reflected the decision upheld in Roe v. Wade.

The Senate also passed the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act that will hold insurance companies accountable for covering all FDA-approved forms of contraception, and the Boss Bill will bar employers from imposing religious beliefs on female employees’ healthcare decisions.

This wave of pro-choice legislation aligned with the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that upheld women’s individual reproductive rights. Its progressivism is in stark contrast to the current national debate around abortion, as reproductive rights activists worry that the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court bench will overturn longstanding protections for abortions.

Some states have already signed into effect laws banning or restricting abortion under certain conditions, including Mississippi, where abortion is banned after 15 weeks, and Iowa, which passed a law in May prohibiting abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The legislation, however, was struck down on Tuesday by a state judge for being unconstitutional.

Democrats and other liberal-minded organizations were ecstatic over the passing of the three pro-choice bills. Shayla Parthasarathy ’21, president of Cornell’s Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter, called the legislation “a big relief.”

“It’s rewarding to see the work of so many activists and advocates pay off, and to see legislation like the CCCA and the Boss Bill tackle some of the many economic challenges that hinder abortion access,” Parthasarathy said.

After flipping eight Republican seats, N.Y. Democrats regained control of the Senate for the first time in decades, with the most women elected to the legislature in history.

“The Cornell Dems are so excited that New York State has recognized the importance of women’s reproductive freedom when the federal government has been abdicating its responsibilities,” said Cornell Democrats political director Geneva Saupe ’21 in a statement to The Sun.

State senator Alessandra Biaggi (D-N.Y.) connected the bill’s success to increased participation of women in government office. “For the last two years, we have been facing major threats to women’s rights, and we have not taken them lying down,” she said. “We are organizing. We are running for office. And we are making sure that the law reflects our values.”

Parthasarathy said that there is still much progress to be made on issues, such as transportation difficulties preventing access to clinics and lack of information.

“Activism and advocacy — for reproductive justice and for social justice in general — are crucial in promoting change,” she said, noting that her on-campus organization is currently working to make medication abortion accessible to students.

Alicia Kenaley, CEO and President of the Southern Finger Lakes Center, conveyed her gratitude to the NY legislature and advocates for reproductive justice in a statement.

“Passing the Reproductive Health Act makes clear that abortion is standard medical care, and that health care is a fundamental human right,” she said.

Although in the minority, conservative leaders in the state showed strong opposition to the legislation.

Senator Thomas O’Mara (R-N.Y.), representing Ithaca and Tompkins County, voted against RHA, saying that it was a “disturbing, extreme, radical action that I strongly oppose along with many of my constituents.”

In its annual report for 2017, Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, the local Ithaca center, reported that it saw 9,443 patients at its five locations, and provided 7,878 birth control visits, 871 transgender services visits and 1,076 surgical and medication abortions, among other services, over the duration of a year.