With Brent Kavanaugh joining Neil Gorsuch on the United States Supreme Court, with Ruth Bader Ginsburg missing oral arguments as she recovers from yet another medical procedure, those who had held out a slim hope that Roe v. Wade would continue to be the law of the land are understandably nervous.
So it should come as a relief that Gov. Andrew Cuomo made an appearance this week with Hillary Clinton to reaffirm his intention to expand the protections for abortions in New York state as soon as the new Legislature can get to work.
Should the Supreme Court in one way or another reverse or restrain rights guaranteed since the landmark decision in 1973, many states are ready to pass laws that would outlaw abortion in effect if not directly. New York would not be one of them. The state legalized abortion three years before the court extended that right to the rest of the nation and there is no support for going back to the days when abortions were available only to those who knew how to work around the system or who were desperate enough to take chances.
One of the many issues prominent in the elections last year that put the state Senate under Democratic control was the need to pass the Reproductive Health Act, which had been successful in the Assembly but ignored regularly by Republicans who controlled the Senate.
The election changed that in a big way, giving Democrats the kind of majority that makes legislating a matter of choice. With so many areas awaiting action, with so many important public issues finally removed from the grasp of those who used their power in the Senate more to impede progress than to advance any cause, this proposed piece of legislation is ready to become law.
Although abortion is the center of attention, a companion bill is important because it would require insurers to provide free contraceptive coverage.
In addition to neutralizing the threats from the Trump administration and the courts, New York needs to act on the issue of abortion for other reasons. Although the state legalized abortion in 1970, the law has not been updated since then and does not include some of the rights that were guaranteed by Roe v. Wade, especially permission for late-term abortion to preserve the health of the mother, something that other states which have revised their laws more recently have addressed.
The Reproductive Health Act would move state abortion regulations from the penal code to the health code, recognizing it as the public health issue that it is instead of the criminal issue that it once was.
The very public recognition of the need to pass this legislation quickly is clearly part of the governor’s effort to maintain a national profile as high as possible as Democrats begin to decide who is the candidate with the best chance to defeat Donald Trump in 2020. Cuomo is good at maximizing such publicity and has ensured continued attention with his proposal to not only sign the law once it is passed but to continue the effort to put abortion rights in the state Constitution.