James takes action to expand abortion access

Letitia James
New York State Attorney General Letitia James waves after speaking during the New York State Democratic Convention in New York, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022.
Associated Press/Seth Wenig/File

New York Attorney General Letitia James, State Sen. Cordell Cleare and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas on Monday announced new legislation to establish a state program that would provide financial resources to abortion providers in New York.

James said the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program would provide funding for abortion providers and non-profit organizations to help increase access to care, funding for uncompensated and uninsured abortion care, and providing resources to support the needs of individuals accessing abortion care.

If the US Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks, the fundamental federal right to abortion will be eliminated, curtailing the ability of people across the United States to access safe and legal abortions.

The New York Attorney General said the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program would support access to abortion for low-income New Yorkers and would also provide financial support for the influx of people coming to New York from other states that ban abortion.

As states have passed laws restricting access to abortion, the number of people traveling to New York for care has already grown, James said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, nine percent or 7,000 of the abortion procedures performed in New York were for people from out of state.

If Roe v. Wade is overturned, that number is likely to increase to more than 32,000 procedures a year from individuals traveling from only Ohio and Pennsylvania to New York, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

There are currently 22 states that have laws or constitutional amendments that already exist that would allow them to ban abortion if Roe is overturned or weakened.

There are an additional four states that are likely to ban abortion in the absence of federal protections. These 26 states are home to more than 40 million women of reproductive age.

“We know what happens when women are unable to control their own bodies and make their own choices and we will not go back to those dark times,” said Attorney General James. “New York must lead the fight to keep abortion safe and accessible for all who seek it and this legislation spearheaded by State Sen. Cleare and Assemblymember González-Rojas will ensure that low-income New Yorkers and people from states that ban abortion have access to the care they need and deserve.

“No matter what happens in the weeks to come, New York will always fight to protect our right to make decisions about our own bodies and expand access to this critical and lifesaving care,” she added.

The legislation announced Monday, and originally called for by Attorney General James last year, seeks a dedicated Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program within the New York State Department of Health (DOH) that would provide funding to abortion providers and non-profit organizations to grow the capacity of providers and meet present and future care needs.

The program would provide funding for uncompensated abortion care regardless of a patient’s ability to pay for care or their insurance status.

Additionally, the program seeks to address the abortion care needs of individuals from outside of New York by awarding grant funds to non-profit organizations that provide support to individuals that travel to New York.

To protect the privacy of the individuals seeking care, the legislation prohibits the state from tracking the personal information of patients through the providers that receive funds from the program.

“Health care is a fundamental human right and abortion is an essential aspect of women’s health care,” Cleare said. “I am proud to sponsor new legislation — The Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program — that will ensure that in New York we proactively protect, support, and fund all aspects of women’s health care including comprehensive abortion services. We will not be subject to the arbitrary whims of a politicized Supreme Court nor can we fund health care services via private fundraising — our women deserve better, and justice and equity demand it!”

“One of our greatest fears in generations is coming true: The Supreme Court will overrule Roe v. Wade,” said González-Rojas. “Millions who live in states hostile to abortion access will look to other states for that care. New York must be a leader at this moment and prepare for the impending need.

“That is why I’m proud to have introduced legislation to create the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Fund, which will help address this need by providing funding to providers and addressing the practical needs of patients,” she added. “I am honored to stand with our Attorney General Letitia James in calling on all of my elected colleagues to support it, for it to pass, and be signed into law.

“Most importantly, I’m asking that we invest the necessary resources to support our sisters and siblings across this nation,” González-Rojas continued. “Our communities need real action by our state and this fund will ensure that New York is a safe access state when the Supreme Court has failed us.”

“When it comes to reproductive rights, the Supreme Court has indicated that it’s going to fail American women,” said Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, the Haitian American chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party. “But, where the Supreme Court fails, New York will not. This legislation will say we respect you, no matter who you are, no matter what your skin color, or what faith you do or do not subscribe to.

“This legislation will say, ‘We believe you have inalienable rights, rights that cannot be superseded by your government,’” added the representative for the 42nd Assembly District in Brooklyn. “Bodily autonomy is a right for all Americans. The reasons for her decision are ultimately hers alone. To deny this choice is to deny one’s freedom and equality.”

In October 2021, Attorney General James, as part of a coalition of attorneys general, filed multiple amicus briefs in the US Supreme Court, urging the high court to stop Texas’ unconstitutional six-week abortion ban — Senate Bill 8 (SB 8).

First, in mid-October, Attorney General James and the coalition filed an amicus brief seeking to vacate an order from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that let the abortion ban continue to take effect after a lower court initially blocked the law.

This brief followed an earlier amicus brief James and the coalition filed, in September 2021, in support of the US Department of Justice’s initial challenge to Texas’ unconstitutional ban on abortions.

Additionally, in late October 2021, Attorney General James and the coalition filed two more amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in United States of America v. State of Texas et al. and Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, calling on the court to refuse to allow Texas to evade judicial review of its blatantly unconstitutional ban by allowing challenges — brought by the US Department of Justice and Texas abortion providers — to go forward.

Meantime, Senate Majority Leader Charles “Chuck” Schumer tweeted on Sunday that he was “standing with elected officials and women’s rights advocates in NY because the Supreme Court’s reported decision is an abomination.”

He said the US Senate will vote this week on the Women’s Health Protection Act to protect abortion rights.

“We will see where every single senator stands,” Schumer said.

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