NY, ND Pushing Abortion Laws in Opposite Directions

Posted February 20, 2013 in Editors Picks Your Personal Rights by

State legislatures across the country have approved a wave of anti-abortion legislation in recent years, but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is hoping his state will buck the trend by prohibiting discrimination of abortion rights. At the same time, North Dakota’s lawmakers are considering multiple bills that could make its abortion laws the most restrictive in the nation.

The Reproductive Health Act will soon be introduced in the New York Senate, and though the bill’s language has not yet been finalized, Cuomo has stated that it will unify New York’s abortion statutes with federal laws that allow late-term abortions in cases where a mother’s health is at risk. Currently, New York law only allows late-term abortions when the mother’s life is at risk.

The law would fully decriminalize abortion by moving its regulation from the state’s penal code to its public health code. It would also extend the authority to perform abortions to include all “qualified, licensed health care practitioners” and not just physicians.

If it passes, the law would make New York the eighth state to establish a reproductive health act, and the second — along with Washington state — to flatly prohibit “discrimination of abortion rights.” Other states with similar abortion protections include California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland and Nevada.

Some pro-life advocates fear that the provision prohibiting discrimination of abortion rights would threaten the existence of Catholic health care providers and other health care institutions in New York that oppose abortion. In a Washington Times editorial, LibertyBlog.org editor Daniel Smyth argues that health care providers could lose their medical licenses for refusing to, at a minimum, refer patients for abortions.

In an open letter to Cuomo, Archbishop of New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan worried that the bill would promote abortion.

“There was a time when abortion supporters claimed they wanted to make abortion ‘safe, legal, and rare,’” Dolan wrote. “Yet this measure is specifically designed to expand access to abortion, and therefore to increase the abortion rate. I am hard pressed to think of a piece of legislation that is less needed or more harmful than this one.”


The Other End of the Spectrum

Halfway across the country, in North Dakota, the legislative agenda is very different. Both houses have passed multiple anti-abortion bills just this month, including a bill that appears to be modeled after a controversial Mississippi law that critics say is a maneuver to close the state’s only abortion clinic.

In Mississippi, the last abortion clinic in operation could have its license revoked any day now unless it’s granted a new injunction against a law requiring its physicians to be board-certified OBGYNs with admitting privileges at a local hospital. North Dakota’s similar bill, which passed in the Senate by a 30-17 vote, also requires hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers. And just like Mississippi, North Dakota has only one active abortion clinic that could be forced to close if the bill becomes law.

Another bill that passed in the North Dakota Senate defines a human being as a person at all stages of development. It specifically allows for abortions in cases where the life of the mother is at risk, but it makes no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. The Senate also passed a bill that declares an inalienable right to life at all stages of development and sets up a 2014 primary election vote that could enshrine the language in the state constitution. Later this session, it’s expected to vote on yet another bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.

The bills should receive a warm welcome in the North Dakota House of Representatives, which passed two anti-abortion bills of its own this session. One bill makes it a crime for a physician to knowingly perform an abortion based on gender or genetic abnormalities. The other requires physicians to check for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion and prohibits them from proceeding if a heartbeat is detected. Both passed with support from more than two-thirds of the chamber.

Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the measures “extreme,” “unconstitutional” and “dangerous for North Dakota women.”

“Whether through tactics that outright ban abortion or backdoor efforts to block women’s access to reproductive health care providers, the end result is the same: women will be gravely harmed,” Northup said.

What do you think of the abortion laws being considered in New York and North Dakota? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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