by Auditi Guha
The New York State Assembly passed the Reproductive Health Act passed last week, the latest step in a nationwide effort by state lawmakers to protect access to abortion care in case Roe v. Wade is overturned by conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court.
The push to solidify Roe protections and nullify antiquated anti-abortion laws on the books in many states picked up steam after President Trump won the 2016 election and promised to nominate Supreme Court justices who are hostile to settled abortion rights law. The Court legalized abortion with the landmark Roe decision in 1973, but many states like New York have weaker abortion protections that have not been updated since that era.
New York’s A 1748 passed the assembly on March 13, while its companion bill in the state senate waits in committee. The legislation would update a 1970 anti-abortion law to ensure New York state law treats abortion as health care, while repealing unconstitutional criminal statutes.
State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan), sponsor of the senate bill, thanked her colleagues in the state assembly “for making it clear that the government and employers have no business interfering in New Yorkers’ personal decisions about reproductive healthcare.”
“Reproductive rights are under attack across the country, and soon we may not even be able to rely on the limited protections provided by Roe v. Wade. Now is the time for New York to lead, with modern laws ensuring that decisions about reproductive health are the sole responsibility of a woman or a man and their medical providers,” Krueger said in a statement.
State lawmakers across the United States are taking similar paths to protect access to abortion care.
Legislators from 25 states have pledged to introduce proactive abortion rights bills this year, according to advocates from the nonpartisan Public Leadership Institute (PLI), which is coordinating the effort. So far, 18 states have passed laws to protect legal abortion care.
“The anti-abortion movement is purposefully pursuing unconstitutional legislation in the hopes of toppling Roe through the Supreme Court,” PLI President Gloria Totten said in a statement. “As recently demonstrated by the anti-abortion legislation introduced in Mississippi and Ohio, there will always be another more restrictive abortion ban introduced in states. This is why we need state statutory protection and why we continue to work in the remaining 32 states to Protect Roe.”
From California to Vermont, lawmakers have introduced a flurry of bills and amendments to cement the protections ensured by Roe. These include HB 1772 in Missouri, SB 268 in Vermont, and SB 2163 in Rhode Island.
“Every poll has found that about 70 percent of voters believe Roe v. Wade should be upheld. If the courts won’t do it, we will,” Arizona state Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe) said in a statement. Salman is introducing legislation to repeal all state abortion restrictions.
Some city officials are even pushing for protections where states have not yet taken action. On March 2, for instance, the board of aldermen in St. Louis, Missouri, passed Resolution 213 to recognize the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
“Now more than ever, we need leaders who are ready to stand with women and their families and not be silent,” Alderwoman Sarah Wood Martin of the 11th Ward, the resolution’s sponsor, said in a statement. “The coordinated attack on women’s health care is real, and I stand with the majority of our state, ready to fight for real solutions that expand freedom and expand abortion rights in Missouri.”
The resolution is a show of support for Missouri’s HB 1772, which would ensure that abortion care would remain legal in Missouri without Roe.
This momentum follows an unprecedented number of pro-choice bills introduced in state legislatures in 2017: 645 bills sought to protect access to reproductive health care, a marked increase over the number of pro-choice measures introduced in 2016. Eighty-six of the 2017 bills were passed into law, according to the National Institute for Reproductive Health.
Advocates say they plan to continue to fight for and protect legal abortion in the United States in 2018.
“We have fought for 45 years to protect the right to abortion under Roe, and we are ready to fight another 45,” Alison Dreith, NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri executive director, said in a statement.