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‘Reproductive Health Act’ still hanging in New York legislature amid national movement to curtail rights

In state legislatures across the country, 916 measures were introduced through March 31 that in some way restricted abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And passage of many of these laws, whether they impose mandatory sonogram viewings or shorten the cutoff period for when a woman can have an abortion, have been flying through state chambers. But not in New York.

During this legislative session, New York has seen proposed bills that set notification requirements for abortions performed on minors, require sonogram viewings and readings to be provided to women seeking an abortion and establish a “cause of action for damages” against an abortion provider who performs a “sex selective abortion.” None of these bills have made it before a vote in either chamber of the legislature.

But another piece of proposed legislation challenges some of the aforementioned bills. The “Reproductive Health Act” would amend the state’s public health law to secure the right for a woman to choose contraception and the course of her pregnancy. The proposed law “establishes a fundamental, statutory right to privacy in making personal reproductive decisions and updates New York’s abortion and contraception laws to correct constitutional defects and ensure that abortion is treated as a health matter.”

The bill hasn’t seen much action since it was introduced in the New York Senate in January by state Sen. Jeffrey D. Klein (D, 34th District), with two co-sponsors. It was referred to the Senate Health Committee in February; a similar version with 14 co-sponsors was introduced in the State Assembly by Deborah J. Glick (D-66th District) and was referred to the Assembly Health Committee in March.

Still, during this week’s Bipartisan Pro Choice Legislative Caucus, New York Senate Minority Leader John Sampson said he would fight to push the Reproductive Health Act.

“When it comes to protecting women’s access to safe, legal and affordable reproductive services, there’s only one choice,” Sampson said at the caucus. “When it comes to protecting essential and life-saving health services, there’s only one choice. And when it comes to protecting choice for millions of women, there’s only one choice. And that is pro-choice.”

Sampson emphatically said the state would pass RHA, but at the end of his speech, he seemed to imply it might not happen during this session.

“We will pass the Reproductive Health Care [sic] Act into law,” he said. “But for that we are going to need your help because we are going to need a new Democratic State Senate. … Right now we are overwhelmingly pro-choice here in the state of New York, but we’re represented by an anti-choice Senate.”

Watch Sampson’s speech to the Bipartisan Pro Choice Legislative Caucus:

State groups such as Family Planning Advocates of New York State and the New York Civil Liberties Union have made RHA among their major legislative agenda items and have until the session ends on June 20 to try to influence its passage.

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