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Abortion Takes Center Stage As Session Closes

Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, voices his opposition on the state Senate floor to a study of limited service pregnancy centers.

Protecting the right to an abortion is one of the state Legislature’s top priorities as the 2022 legislative session draws to a close.

Both the Assembly and Senate on Tuesday took up bills to make it easier for women to travel to New York state to get an abortion or to make it harder for other states’ governments or citizens to sue New York health care providers who perform abortions. Legislation passed this week is part of a flurry of activity spurred by the leaked Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that could overrule Roe v. Wade.

“There is nothing democratic about a handful of people unilaterally gutting laws that are universally supported by the majority of Americans,” said Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers and Senate majority leader. “That’s why the leaked Supreme Court decision that would reverse Roe is our five-alarm fire. The criminalization of women’s bodies and of doctors fulfilling their sacred oath is only the beginning of what we could lose. Not a single freedom that we currently enjoy is safe or guaranteed unless, I’m told, it was in the original document, which is kind of scary. Too many think that they can steal our democracy without us noticing until it’s too late, but we in this chamber will not stand idly by while these fundamental rights are chipped away around us. We’ll no longer wait for Congress to act. States are the last line of defense asgainst these authoritarian trends and a final check against an unaccountable federal govenrment. New York has led the nation before. We will do it again.”

Legislation passed Tuesday includes:

¯ A.10094/S.9039, which establishes a cause of action for unlawful interference with protected rights;

¯ A10372/S.9077, which grants legal protections for abortion service providers. The bill passed the Assembly 100-49 with Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voting against.

¯ A.9818/S.9384, which provides address confidentiality to protect reproductive health care service providers, employees, volunteers, patients, or immediate family members of reproductive health care services providers. It passed the Assembly 135-14, with Goodell voting against and Giglio voting in favor.

¯ S.0908/A.9718, which prohibits medical malpractice insurance companies from taking any adverse action against a reproductive health care provider who provides legal reproductive health care. The bill passed the Senate 41-22, with Borrello voting against. It has not yet passed the Assembly.

¯ S.9384/A.9818, which includes abortion providers and patients in the address confidentiality program. Borrello was one of nine votes against the legislation in the Senate. Goodell was one of 14 votes against the measure in the Assembly while Giglio voted in favor.

Borrello offered a counterpoint to Stewart-Cousins, saying the end-of-session activity won’t mean major changes for New York residents regardless of what happens with the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs. New York codified Roe v. Wade into law in 2019 with the New York Reproductive Health Act, which allows practitioners to perform an abortion on a patient after 24 weeks of pregnancy if the fetus is not viable or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health. Prior to 2019, abortions after 24 weeks were allowed only when the life of the mother was at risk.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we talked about a lot of bills today,” he said. “The supplemental calendar, most of it is really for show, honestly. There’s really not a lot that’s going to happen here because if Roe v. Wade is overturned tomorrow you will still be able to get an abortion until the moment of birth here in New York state. That’s not going to change. I’m personally abhorred by that, but that’s not going to change. So what this really is, this little suite of bills today, is more or less the One Party Rule Preservation Act. Nothing much is gping to happen with any of these bills today.”

LIMITED SERVICE PREGNANCY CENTER STUDY

Borrello was speaking against S.470/A.5499, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-New York City, which creates a study of unmet health and resource needs facing pregnant women in New York and the impact of “limited service pregnancy centers” on the ability of women to get accurate, non-coercive health care information and access to a full range of reproductive and sexual health services. Hoylman’s bill takes aim at the pregnancy centers, which he said offer limited pregnancy-related services, such as pregnancy tests or ultrasonography, run by organizations that have the core goal of persuading pregnant women and teens to choose to continue the pregnancy.

“I guess that my concern here is that we’re going to create a study to study one side of what are considered to be pregnancy counseling,” Borrello said. “We’re going to study those folks whose mission it is really to say that we want to provide information and alternatives to abortion. That’s their mission. Now we might say they’re not telling about abortion. That may or may not be the case. But the bottom line is we have those folks that do provide abortion, and in the case of organizations like Planned Parenthood they actually get funding by selling fetal tissue, fetal organs to organizations for a very high dollar amount, and that is part of their funding. So I don’t see what their incentive is to counsel the other way. So if we’re going to perform a study, let’s perform a complete study and see what is actually going on with those who provide services of abortion and those who proviude services to support those who are pregnant. This bill does not do that. What this does is it targets those who like to provide an alternative to abortion and also other services as Sen. Hoylman mentioned. They provide pregnancy tests, sonograms, diapers, information. But to sit here and say we’re going to target one particular segment of this women’s health services is just not fair.”

RIGHT TO SUE LEGISLATION

A.10094/S.9039 passed the Assembly by a 100-49 vote with Goodell and Giglio voting against the bill while it passed the Senate 41-22 with Borrello voting against. Sponsored by Assemblyman Chris Burdick, D-Mt. Kisco, and Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Bronx, the legislation allows those who travel to NEw York for abortions to countersue in other states who would file civil or criminal charges. Goodell said the bill is overly broad and likely to create issues unrelated to abortion for New York residents.

“This bill establishes a cause of action for interference with anyone’s attempt to exercise or facilitate or attempt to facilitate accessing medical services,” Goodell said. “And the bill talks specifically about reproductive health but it goes on to say that it is not in any way limited to reproductive health. And so unfortunately this bill would apply in situations where you have a family that is not in agreement over an aged parent who is unconscious. And this happens sometimes with families. And you don’t know whether they should keep the aged parent on life support or to terminate the life support. And the actual language of this bill would trigger in this situation and potentially create liability for one son or daughter against another son or daughter based on the health care decisions they might make. I think that’s way beyond what the sponsor intended, but that’s what the language provides. It would also apply in wrongful death situations. So it’s got very broad ramifications inside New York that go way beyond just reproductive health. The last thing I would mention is this bill purports to give you a cause of action if a court in a different state or lawsuit in a different state involves some of the other parties. New York just does not have the jurisdiction to create a cause of action in New York that applies to people who are not residents of New York but are doing activities outside the boundaries of New York. So because of those constitutional restrictions and the very broad language I would recommend my colleagues vote against it.”

Burdick disagreed with Goodell’s characterization of the bill and said the legislation simply safeguards rights that ar eprotected under New York law.

“So if a person from out of state attacks those rights, then the state of New York has what I believe to be both a moral obligation and has the legal right to defend those rights and the individual whose rights are being attracked can simply have a cause of action against the person who is attacking those rights. It’s a very simple approach, really doesn’t involve the state at all. I think that the previous speaker’s concerns are a bit overblown, I believe this bill is very much needed so that we can protect those who come within New York state to seek services that may not be available to them or may be illegal in their home state.”

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