As a doctor who specializes in reproductive genetics, I’ve seen how New York’s outdated abortion law hurts women. Even though federal law requires that a doctor always be able to protect the health of a woman, New York law as written appears to prohibit abortion later in pregnancy unless a woman’s life is in danger.
Because abortion is regulated in the criminal code instead of the public health code, doctors are often deterred from providing the best care possible. This means when a woman in her third trimester of pregnancy who is excited to have a baby unexpectedly confronts tragic obstetric complications or a serious medical illness, or discovers she is carrying a fetus with severe and/or lethal anomalies, she is often unable to get the help or treatment she needs.
I’ve seen this firsthand many times.
Last fall, I cared for a woman who had visited her doctor for a routine sonogram at 20 weeks of pregnancy. During the check-up, the doctor discovered that the fetus had polycystic kidney disease—a genetic disorder that meant her baby would not survive. The woman was referred to my hospital for confirmation of diagnosis.
Before she could come in, Hurricane Sandy closed her hospital. Ten weeks passed before she could arrange to see us. When she did come, further testing confirmed the tragic news that her baby would not survive. Abortion care was the safest option. However, at that point in her pregnancy, it was too risky legally for her to obtain an abortion in New York.
She had no options. She could not afford the thousands of dollars necessary to travel out of state and get the care she needed, and therefore was forced to carry the non-viable fetus to term. She delivered a still birth and experienced a life-threatening post-partum hemorrhage, which also threatened her ability to have children in the future. She survived, but her life should never have been endangered in the first place.
The hurricane may appear to make this case extraordinary, but I see cases like this all too often. The Women’s Equality Agenda will update New York’s abortion law by aligning it with federal protections and current medical practice. It would remove the regulation of abortion from the criminal code and put it in the public health law where it belongs. Further, it will allow doctors to provide the best possible care to all their patients without fear of prosecution.
New York has an opportunity to once again be a leader in the fight for women's rights. It is far past time that we stop treating abortion care as a crime and start protecting women's health so that, regardless of her economic status, every woman is able to get the best care possible right here in New York. This should not be about political games. This is about women's lives.