By Michele Sterlace-Accorsi
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Act, poised to hit the New York State Legislature, contains a bold 10-point agenda, nine-tenths of which women of every color and creed indisputably recognize as empowering. The agenda contains long-overdue provisions that finally align women’s wages with those of men for similar work performed, end the vestiges of employment and housing discrimination as well as workplace sexual harassment and strengthen lending and credit anti-discrimination laws.
The advantages of the governor’s 10th point, known as the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), however, are not beyond dispute, particularly among feminists. Hailed by NARAL Pro-Choice New York as a “central component” of the Women’s Equality Act, the RHA falls far short of empowering women, and may in fact harm women.
Rather than craft a bill aimed at reducing the number of abortions in New York and ensuring women’s safety, as the governor purports is his goal, the RHA will likely increase the abortion rate and render the procedure less safe.
Contrary to public opinion, the trend in state legislatures across the nation and current New York law, the RHA makes it easier to obtain late-term abortions, all the way up through the ninth month of pregnancy.
New York already has the highest abortion rate of any state, and polls consistently show most Americans oppose second- and third-trimester abortions, especially when the baby is viable, or able to live outside the womb.
The RHA also ushers in a new set of people to perform abortions. Any “licensed health care practitioner” instead of a “duly licensed physician” would be allowed to perform the surgical procedure before viability. Placing women in the hands of less-qualified medical personnel can potentially increase health risks and endanger women’s lives.
Early American feminists keenly understood that knowledge empowers and fought for admittance into institutions of higher education long before they obtained the right to vote. Yet in New York, abortion providers are not required to even “offer” women basic information relevant to abortion, including the psychological risks involved and facts on fetal development.
The RHA precludes the Legislature from enacting expanded informed consent laws or any other such women-centered legislation, including requiring the notification of a parent when a minor daughter undergoes an abortion.
The mothers of American feminism viewed abortion “as a sign and symbol of the grave injury which patriarchy inflicts upon every human being …” (Rachel MacNair, Pro-Life Feminism: Yesterday and Today.) The governor claims abortion should not only be safe and legal, but rare. New Yorkers deserve women’s rights legislation that, at the very least, aims in that direction.
Michele Sterlace-Accorsi is a member of Feminists Choosing Life of New York.