In the days following the United States Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade last month, members of New York City’s first female-majority city council began crafting their response. They wanted to protect abortion access and strengthen reproductive health care in the city as protests and legal battles began across the country.
About three weeks later, that response will be widely voted on Thursday in the Women‘s and Gender Equity Committee, then in full City Council. On the agenda are bills that would take a holistic approach to expanding access to abortion, including measures that would require some city health clinics to provide free abortion pills, allow civil suits against operations or individuals who interfere with reproductive or endocrine medical care, and prevent city agencies from using city resources to enforce other states’ abortion restrictions.
These are the types of steps blue cities and states must take to ensure equitable access to abortion and other forms of reproductive care – especially in border areas of states where abortion is now banned, according to Council Member Carlina Rivera, who sponsors many of the measures in the NYC Abortion Rights Act package.
“Women across the United States are desperate for abortion care, and tens of millions live in fear of concerted Republican efforts to further roll back our rights,” Rivera said. “We must fight like hell to ensure safe, legal and easily accessible abortion for all.”
Rivera’s legislation would require all Department of Health and Mental Hygiene clinics to provide free medical abortions, regardless of a person’s immigration status or health insurance. Although providing the drug is likely to be expensive, she said the investment will be worth it.
“People are going to come to New York,” Rivera said. “We know people will come here, and the goal is really to serve low-income women and people whose abortions aren’t covered by their health care.”
Council member Tiffany Cabán, who is also sponsoring several measures in the package, said it is no coincidence that the city council is tackling the overthrow of Roe v. Wade with such urgency.
With the last election, the New York City Council is made up of 31 women members, making the majority for the first time in history. And with City Council President Adrienne Adams at the helm, it is also led by a woman.
Many of these council members said they saw the new session as an opportunity to draw attention to pay disparities, the maternal mortality crisis and of course abortion and reproductive health care – issues which, according to Cabán, have long been a blind spot for many cisgender people. men in political office.
“There’s an accounting and a knowledge base that’s deeply personal, and then there’s momentum and power behind it because there are so many people sharing kind of overlapping experience around it” , Caban said. “We are seeing, I think for the first time in our council, a lot more childcare legislation – legislative interventions and solutions that will make a difference in the daily lives of expectant parents. It’s because we have mothers and guardians in the corridors of power.
One of Cabán’s measures would require the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to publish an annual report on the number of births and abortions occurring in the city for New York residents and those who come from out of state. This effort, she said, would help gauge the city’s ability to meet increased demands.
Also on Thursday, legislation that would allow countersuits in cases where a person who comes to New York for an abortion is sued because access to an abortion is illegal in their home state.
“It reaffirms that in our city and state, these kinds of unlawful actions an abusive ex-partner might take is interference with medical care,” said council member and sponsor of the bill Shahana Hanif. After leaving the committee on Wednesday, his other bill would require the city to mount a vigorous public education campaign to inform New Yorkers of their reproductive rights — especially for those who face additional barriers such as people low-income, those with low English proficiency, and women of color.
Politicians from the New York Civil Liberties Union say the City Council package comes as half the country strives to ban abortion within its own state’s borders and even prevent the access in places where abortion remains legal. They said the council’s legislation is a promising first step, but more needs to be done to expand “meaningful access” to reproductive health care.
Yet according to NYCLU political advocate Allie Bohm, Thursday’s efforts are central to their action, reminiscent of those in 1970 when New York legalized abortion — three years before Roe v. Wade.
“At that time we put up billboards at the borders saying abortion was safe, legal and available here,” Bohm said. “We are called to do the equivalent of the digital age today and make it truly accessible and affordable for everyone.”