What Andrew Cuomo’s Abortion Proposal Says About Access in 2013

Cuomo’s plan is being cheered by abortion rights activists and panned by anti-abortion groups, including the Catholic Church. But the truth is, Cuomo’s plan is more about symbolism than changing much of anything for women’s reproductive health—in New York state or anywhere else.

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of the audience after delivering his State of the State and budget proposals at The City College of New York on Feb. 6, 2013 in New York City.

There are two Americas when it comes to abortion—one in which it’s nearly impossible to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and one in which access to the procedure is mostly unfettered and often publicly financed. Geography is everything. While abortion has been a federally protected right for 40 years, in some states, women must travel hundreds of miles and devote days to terminating pregnancies; poor women who can’t afford to pay out of pocket must find privately-funded organizations to pick up the tab. In others, obtaining an abortion is logistically as simple as making and showing up to a standard doctor’s appointment.

New York is one of the latter, with few abortion restrictions and greater access to the procedure than nearly any other state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo reportedly wants to widen access even further and has proposed rewriting a state law that now limits abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy to women whose lives are in danger. Cuomo’s proposal, as reported by the New York Times, would also allow abortions after 24 weeks to protect a woman’s health. According to the New York Times, Cuomo wants to ensure wide access to abortion in New York state is on the books in case the Supreme Court ever overturns Roe v. Wade.

(PHOTOS: 40 Years After Roe: Inside North Dakota’s Only Abortion Clinic)

Cuomo’s proposal is being cheered by abortion rights activists and panned by anti-abortion groups, including the Catholic Church. But the truth is, Cuomo’s plan is more about symbolism than changing much of anything for women’s reproductive health—in New York state or anywhere else.

Even though the New York state’s current law doesn’t explicitly allow late-term abortions to protect a woman’s health, Roe v. Wade said that abortions that take place after a fetus might be able to survive on its own outside the womb are permissible to protect the life or health of the woman who is pregnant. So Cuomo’s propsal, which is not new, may not significantly alter the legal landscape for women, although some providers may be more willing to perform late-term abortions if Cuomo’s proposal takes effect. (It must be passed by the state legislature.) Despite Roe v. Wade’s distinction that late-term abortions must be legal to protect the life and health of the mother, some states have outlawed late-term abortions without including these exceptions. Many are now being challenged in court and Cuomo’s proposal is meant to reinforce the current Roe v. Wade standard. In any case, late-term abortions are extremely rare. Nationwide, less than two percent of abortions take place after 21 weeks; about 90 percent happen before 12 weeks of pregnancy.

And New York is not a battleground in the war over abortion access in 21st century America. Anti-abortion activists largely see New York as a lost cause and are not targeting it as a place they can push for new state laws to curtail access to abortion. For abortion rights activists, New York has is merely continuing its long tradition of liberal abortion laws. Before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, which made abortion a federally protected right, New York was one of several states that already allowed women to terminate pregnancies.

(MORE: Viewpoint: Pro-Life and Feminism Aren’t Mutually Exclusive)

Access today is already widespread and New York does not impose restrictions on abortion that are increasingly common elsewhere. Women seeking abortions in New York to not have to undergo waiting periods, parental consent or notification procedures or mandatory ultrasounds. New York is one of a handful of states that voluntarily provides coverage for abortion under Medicaid. In part because abortion is publicly funded for women on Medicaid and because the state has more abortion providers per capita than many others, the abortion rate in New York State is nearly twice the national rate, with about 39 abortions per 1,000 women age 15-44 in 2008, the last year data is available from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization whose statistics are cited by both pro-life and pro-choice activists. In 2008, abortions that took place in New York state represented nearly 13% of all abortions in the U.S. According to Guttmacher, just 7 percent of women in New York state live in counties the lack an abortion provider, compared to about 30 percent of women nationwide.

Still, Cuomo’s move to widen access even further goes against a tide of restrictive state laws making it extremely arduous to obtain abortion services in some parts of the country. As I wrote in a recent Time cover story, in parts of the South and Midwest, it is more difficult to access abortion than at any point since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973. There are four states that have just a single abortion provider and some 40 percent fewer providers nationwide now compared to the 1980s. In recent years, anti-abortion activists have successfully lobbied for state laws that make getting abortion more time-consuming and expensive. They have also succeeded in persuading some states to pass zoning laws and other regulations that make it hard for independent abortion clinics to stay open.

(MORE: Has the Fight for Abortion Rights Been Lost?)

Anti-abortion activists have pursued these state-level regulations at the same time they have been trying to land a new abortion case before a sympathetic Supreme Court. If pro-life efforts at the state level are any guide, these activists may one day succeed, which is why abortion rights groups want governors like Cuomo want to make it explicitly clear that abortion will be available in states even if the procedure is no longer protected by federal law.

The prospects for Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act are uncertain. The split state legislature, which recently legalized gay marriage (with help from some Republicans), will have to contend with public opinion. According to Gallup, 79 percent of pro-choice Americans believe abortion should be illegal in the third trimester of pregnancy.

MORE: What Got Lost in the Debate About Birth Control

16 comments
DaneMuhlig
DaneMuhlig

Abortion is an abomination!! Abortion is dead wrong!! 
People want kill a baby in the womb and STOP A BABY'S
LITTLE HEART BEAT! THAT'S MURDEROUS!! THAT'S
MURDEROUS!! THAT'S MURDER in the WOMB!
God will judge these people SEVERELY!!

Abortion is not "the right to choose." A woman DOES NOT
have the right commit MURDER of the womb...not before
the eyes of the living God!! Abortion is not "Pro Choice"...it is
PRO DEATH to the small, little child in the womb!! When you
stop a heartbeat you have killed!! [it only takes around 22 days
for the baby's heart to start beating after conception]. It is not
a lifeless "Fetus" material...it is a dear, precious, valuable baby!
[Somebody wake up!]

Is Abortion a "sensitive issue?" YES! YES! IT IS SENSITIVE
TO THE LITTLE BABY IN THE WOMB!! An Abortion Doctor puts
a hollow plastic suction tube, with a knife-like edge on the tip,
into the uterus and sucks. The suction tears the baby’s body into
pieces. The suction is 29 times stronger than a vacuum cleaner.
YES! YES! THAT IS VERY, VERY SENSITIVE TO THE LITTLE
BABY!! How about the Cord Cutting technique? This is similar
to a Cesarean delivery, except that the umbilical cord is usually
cut while the baby is still in the womb, thus cutting off his oxygen
supply and causing him to suffocate. YES THAT IS SENSITIVE TO
THE BABY!! God will judge this evil and it's promoters and "allow-ers."

Or the Salt poisoning technique may be used. A long needle injects
a strong salt solution through the mother's abdomen into the baby's
sac. The baby swallows this fluid and is poisoned by it. It also acts
as a corrosive, burning off the outer layer of skin. It normally takes
somewhat over an hour for the baby to die. How "SENSITIVE" is that?
THIS IS AN ABOMINATION!! And Leaders of our nation are FOR THIS
HELL ON EARTH?? Listen! You hear Christ cry, "Let the little children
come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven
belongs to such as these.”
[ Matt.19:14]

Or how about later term abortions? The entire infant is delivered
except the head. A scissors is jammed into the base of the skull.
A tube is inserted into the skull, and the brain is sucked out.
The now-dead infant is pulled out. YES THAT IS A SENSITIVE
ISSUE TO THE BABY!! MY GOD!! MY GOD!! THIS IS INSANITY
TO THE EXTREME!! How that baby screams and writhes in pain
because of someone "inconvenience."

This is God's Creation! No one has the right to destroy God's
Creation! This is God's dear, precious little child in the womb...
with a heartbeat...with a beating little heart!!!!

STAND UP FOR WHAT IS RIGHT!! STAND UP FOR THE RIGHTS
OF THOUSANDS OF BABIES IN THE WOMB WHO CAN'T TALK!!
STAND UP AGAINST ALL WHO PROMOTE OR "ALLOW" MURDER
IN THE WOMB! CAST YOUR VOTE AGAINST ALL WHO APPROVE
THE KILLING OF WHAT GOD HAS CREATED! You will be held
accountable for your actions! WHAT A MURDEROUS SHAME FOR
ANYONE...ANYONE TO DEFEND KILLING AN INNOCENT BABY!
STAND UP!! DON'T STOP THE LITTLE BABY'S HEART BEAT!!
DON'T STOP THE LITTLE BABY'S HEART BEAT!!
Please help the little baby!! The baby cries for your help.

jamirperry
jamirperry

@DaneMuhlig so of a girl gets raped and get pregnant its okay for her to live her life with that raped child ?

DaneMuhlig
DaneMuhlig

@jamirperry  God sets the rules not you or me or people! We will all stand before the Judgment Seat and give an account. Murder is murder and people do not have the right to "play god" and decide, Oh, well this is a rape child...KILL IT!" Yo can't be blind hearted and think only about the rape victim...there is a human life involved here and murder of that life, for the sake of someone's "feelings" is beyond insanity!

formerlyjames
formerlyjames like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 5 Like

I like the reference to the symbolism of Cuomo's stand, because that is where I am, symbolically supporting abortion rights in opposition to the religious rights irrational and incoherent positions, not just on abortion, but on contraception, sex education, sexuality.  I don't personally support elective abortion, but will damn sure stand with those who do on the front line of opposition to religious stupidity.

idknonsense
idknonsense like.author.displayName 1 Like

@formerlyjames Currently on appeal in the Colorado Supreme Court is a case where a pregnant woman, 7 months along, and her 2 unborn fetuses all died due to St. Thomas More Hospital, a catholic institution, failing to perform an emergency c-section.  The catholic hospital claims that it is not liable for the deaths of the two 7-month-old fetuses because they are NOT considered people.

People sure can rely on religion's consistency, right?!

Religious stupidity...absolutely, along with hypocrisy, religious depravity, and deception.

Heian
Heian

@formerlyjames Don't forget the bigotry and intolerance, those are all part of the package.

snorte
snorte

@TIME CHILE, Sudamérica, Emilio Berkhoff Jerez y presos del pueblo mapuche = PRESOS POLITICO RT

leslieps918
leslieps918 like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think it's worth mentioning in this story that two women have died from late-term abortion in the last seven months. Tonya Reaves at a Chicago Planned Parenthood and Jennifer Morbelli at LeRoy Carhart's Maryland clinic. Also, it's not accurate to say that late-term abortion is "rare." If it represents 2 percent of all abortions, that means 24,000 times a year -- or nearly 66 times every day -- an at-term or near-viable baby is killed by abortion.

Heian
Heian

@leslieps918 Maybe you should be reconsidering what you think the definition of "rare" is. You can try all you like, but you can't paint 2% as anything but a very small percentage. So if you want to throw a higher number at it, perhaps it would do well to put it in perspective; for that "66 a day", 3234 a day do not fit that criteria.

leslieps918
leslieps918 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@Heian @leslieps918 2 percent is indeed a small percentage of the 1.2 million deaths by abortion every year. But 66 late-term abortions every day is, by no one's definition, "rare." The other 3,234 a day, that's grotesque as well.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@leslieps918

66 a day can easily be small.  It really is about scale.

66 cents a day is insultingly small.  66 inches a day won't get you very far.  66 drips a day is pathetic.

66 airplanes a day sounds impressive.66 tonnes a day sounds like a heck of a lot (though actually, it's rather pathetically small).  66 trips a day sounds like you've been busy.

The problem is that humans in general have a problem understanding scale.  66 people sounds like a lot because when you imagine 66 people, you imagine a full room and all of them dying.  And sure, that's a lot when you think from the scale of the room.  Or of the people you know.  Or whatever.  But when compared to 300 million people in the United States spread over 4 million square miles, it's actually insanely, incredibly, pathetically small.

Here are some other things that happen every day in the US:

- 80 babies who have yet to see their first birthday die (I believe this does not include abortions)

- 1, 240 students are punished with corporal means

- 2,058 children are confirmed abused or neglected

- 4, 133 children are arrested

- 11,000 children are born


66 a day in the world of "how many people do I know" is absolutely horrifying.  66 a day in America is nothing.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@Heian

Another way to look at it is that 66 a day pales in comparison to the approximately 11,000 babies born in the US every day.  Compared to 11K, 66 is a very "rare" occurrence.

Hollywooddeed
Hollywooddeed

@leslieps918 Do you have a credible source to support your 24,000 times a year assertion? Please note I said credible. Thanks

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@Hollywooddeed 

I'm looking for numbers but the number sounds credible.  24k would represent 2% of 1.2 million abortions which is plausible.  Centers for Disease Control lists 50 million abortions since RvW so 1.2 sounds low rather than high for me so....yeah

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@Hollywooddeed 

CDC for 2009: 784k for 48 reporting areas - 46 states, DC, NYC and excluding California, Deleware, Maryland and NH.  In which case, I'd guess the total is somewhere in the range of 1M so the 1.2 sounds a bit high - I'm not sure where they're getting it