Don’t Deny Women Critical Care
May 27, 2013
This weekend, the Democrat and Chronicle published my essay on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda:
Opponents of abortion have launched a misinformation campaign targeting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Women’s Equality Agenda. Their distortions cannot conceal an important truth: The governor’s proposal will protect women’s health. Consider one woman’s struggle.
Two years ago, Sophia, whose name has been changed to protect her privacy, was battling five types of cancer at once. Months of grueling chemotherapy had broken her body and spirit, leaving her constantly ill. And then she discovered what doctors had told her was impossible — she was pregnant.
She felt shocked and betrayed; doctors repeatedly told her she couldn’t get pregnant. Then she learned her fetus had multiple abnormalities, caused by her cancer treatment, that were so severe there was no way the fetus could survive.
When doctors told Sophia her options, the one she needed was off the table. Her doctors were unable to provide her abortion care because Sophia was too far along in her pregnancy and they believed it was too risky under New York law to do so legally — not medically.
Although New York was one of the first states to allow legal abortion, the procedure is still regulated in the state’s criminal code, and unlike federal law, New York law prohibits doctors from providing abortion care later in pregnancy in the rare and tragic circumstance when a woman’s health is at risk or where the fetus will not survive. This means that doctors are forced to refer women like Sophia out of state for the care they need.
Sophia was in an impossible situation: She needed assistance finding a provider that could help her, and her grave illness made traveling a terrible burden. Furthermore, the considerable expense was beyond her means. That’s when she called the National Abortion Federation. NAF runs a toll-free hotline, and we hear from thousands of women every month who need help accessing the abortion care they need.
Together with the New York Abortion Access Fund, we were able to help Sophia raise the thousands of dollars she needed to afford her procedure and trip to Colorado to obtain an abortion.
Sophia’s story underscores the urgent need to change New York law so a woman can get the care she needs when her health is in danger. The Women’s Equality Agenda should contain a provision to do just that.
The governor’s proposal is expected to align state law with federal law so that a woman has access to abortion care when her health is threatened later in pregnancy. It should also move regulation of abortion from the criminal code to the public health law where it belongs.
These common-sense changes will allow doctors to provide the best care possible. They will ensure that women can always obtain the care they need in New York, especially when their health is in danger. And they will correct a cruel injustice that harms women like Sophia and their families.