On January 22, I was so incredibly proud to sit in the gallery of our New York State Legislature, alongside hundreds of advocates, to watch the historic passage of the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which safeguards access to safe and legal abortion in New York State (NYS). The new state law says that a health provider may perform an abortion in the state before 24 weeks — and later if the fetus is not considered viable or if the procedure is considered necessary to protect the woman’s life or health. Those are the exact stipulations made by the Supreme Court in the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. Given the mounting attacks on reproductive health at the national level, this milestone NYS legislation couldn’t have come at a more critical time.
Unfortunately, just weeks after passage of the RHA, I watched the State of the Union address, and was outraged as the President of the United States made blatantly false and dangerous statements about New York’s new law that were right out of the anti-abortion playbook. This speech — and the one he gave in El Paso — opened the floodgates for anti-abortion extremists to spread fear and misinformation the RHA.
Here is the truth about the Reproductive Health Act:
Truth # 1. In the opinion of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (The College), safe, legal abortion is a “necessary component of women's health care.” Moreover, the College opposes legislative restrictions that fundamentally interfere with trusted patient-provider relationships. In other words, politics don’t belong in the exam room.
Truths #2 & #3. The overwhelming majority of Americans support the right to safe and legal abortion and 90% of abortions take place in the first trimester.
Truth #4. … and this is where the backlash over the RHA is really coming from, only 1.3% of abortions take place after 21 weeks, and those are under devastating circumstances. I hope you or someone you love will never have to go the kind of heart-wrenching situation that requires ending a pregnancy after 21 weeks. But if you do, you will be grateful that a bunch of politicians didn’t make your personal and medical journey even more difficult. Read about what kinds of medical circumstances that call for later-term abortions at abortionpatients.com. These stories will break your heart and open your mind.
Recently Dr. Daniel Grossman wrote in an his own Op-ed in Rewire (2/4), that “Whether we ourselves would have a later abortion is not the question. The question is whether we’re able to show empathy for the patient making that decision... When we have this debate, we must center the patients in the conversation.”
Truth #5: By passing the RHA last month, New York State leaders recognized that access to abortion is a necessary component of reproductive care, and they protected access at this pivotal time when the Trump-Pence administration is doing everything in their power to decimate reproductive freedom. With this important legislation, New York State lived up to its reputation as a beacon of reproductive freedom for those who live here, and a safe haven for those who don’t.
This is truth. This is trust. This is something to celebrate.
JoAnn D. Smith is President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Nassau County.