New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has recently proposed some changes to New York’s laws on late-term abortions. Specifically, the new law would guarantee that women in New York have a right to late-term abortions when their health is in danger or the fetus is not viable. Under current New York law, abortions are allowed after 24 weeks of pregnancy only if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk. However, this law is unenforced based on Supreme Court rulings allowing late-term abortions to protect a mother’s health, regardless of whether her life is at risk.  In Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U.S. 914 (2000), the Supreme Court held that Nebraska’s ban on partial birth abortion was unconstitutional because it lacked any exception for the preservation of the health of the mother. The Supreme Court’s abortion decisions show that the preservation of the health of the mother is a paramount concern. Even though New York’s law is unenforced, abortion rights advocates argue that the law has a chilling effect on some doctors and causes some women to leave the state to seek late-term abortions. Furthermore, the proposed New York law would remove abortion from the state’s penal law and regulate it through the state’s public health law. The proposed law would also provide that licensed health care practitioners as well as physicians could perform abortions.

The proposed New York law has generated fierce criticism from anti-choice advocates. Critics of the law assert that the change would allow for unchecked late-term abortions and increase the overall number of abortions in the state. Furthermore, opponents of the proposal argue that the change would endanger the lives of women by allowing non-physicians to perform abortions and prevent any future reasonable regulations of abortion. Polling indicates that many Americans oppose late-term abortions. Indeed, a recent USA Today/Gallup poll showed that 80 percent of Americans oppose late-term abortion (defined in the poll as abortion occurring in the final three months of pregnancy).

The proposed New York law also signals a rare occurrence in recent years of a state seeking to expand abortion coverage rather than restrict it. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 19 states adopted 43 new provisions restricting abortion access in 2012. Further, the Guttmacher report notes there was not a single significant measure adopted by any state to expand access to abortion. Andrea Miller, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, said, “For New York to be able to send a signal, a hopeful sign, a sense of the turning of the tide, we think is really important.”

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