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Attorney General James backs fund to aid women from other states who seek abortion in New York

New York Attorney General Tish James. (New York State Attorney General Facebook)
New York Attorney General Tish James. (New York State Attorney General Facebook)

New York Attorney General Letitia James is urging the state Legislature to pass a bill to set up a $50 million fund to pay for abortion services for people who come to New York for the procedure from other states. She said it’s even more urgent after the leaked draft opinion suggesting the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn Roe v. Wade.

The measure, called the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Fund, would authorize the State Health Department to distribute the money to abortion providers in New York. The funds would finance the procedure, as well as travel, lodging and child care expenses, for women from other states where abortion would be banned. People from other states seeking care is expected to accelerate, if the Supreme Court follows through on a leaked draft opinion and overturns or severely undermines the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the nation.

Attorney General James said helping people come to New York to get the procedure will prevent them from seeking dangerous, illegal practices that could lead to injuries or death, like what happened before the 1973 decision.

“The reality of the situation is that bans will not stop abortions,” James said. “Bans will only stop safe abortions. And that is why we are here today. To provide access to safe abortions.”

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, the right to choose an abortion would be weakened or eliminated in 26 states.

States including Texas already severely restrict access to the procedure, limiting it to the first six weeks of pregnancy, a time when most women first discover that they are pregnant. James said in 2019, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nine percent of abortions, or around 7,000, were performed on out-of-state residents. She said if just individuals from the neighboring states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where abortion is expected to be restricted, come to New York to seek the procedure, that number is estimated to grow to 32,000 procedures a year.

The bill is sponsored in the Senate by Cordell Cleare, and in the Assembly by Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas.

Gonzalez-Rojas said it also provides funds for the health care professionals involved in women’s reproductive health.

“And that means everything from allowing providers to get training and education and bringing more staff and security,” said Gonzalez-Rojas who said the measure also provides money to pay for those who lack health insurance.

“So that people who don’t have insurance, don’t have access to insurance, can get this care,” she said.

Democratic legislative leaders, who hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature, are expected to back some form of funding for out-of-state patients seeking abortions in New York.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has said the state is the “last line of defense” to preserve the right to choose the procedure.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who has said she will also ask the federal government for funding, has said New York will welcome out of state residents seeking the procedure with “open arms.”

“We’re not playing defense, we're playing offense,” Hochul said on May 3. “So my message to women all across this country is that New York, the state of New York, will always be there for anyone who needs reproductive health care, including an abortion.”

With just over three weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers are also considering other measures to strengthen abortion access in New York, including a constitutional amendment establishing the right to choose the procedure. AG James said she backs the concept, and said other rights upheld in other court decisions could be at stake as well, if the Supreme Court erodes the right to privacy that forms the basis for the Roe decision. Those decisions include Griswold v. Connecticut, which found bans on contraceptive use violated the right to martial privacy, and the 2015 decision finding that laws against same sex marriage were unconstitutional.

“The right to privacy, which is implicit in our Constitution, applies to the right to marriage,” AG James said. “It applies to interracial marriage. It applies to contraception. It applies to the rights of the LGBTQ community. It applies to desegregation of our schools. So I don’t know how you can separate abortion from all of these other rights, which were implicit in our Constitution. And that’s why it’s critical important. This is a slippery slope and I will do everything in my power to ensure that the rights of New Yorkers are protected.”

Governor Hochul also supports the proposed constitutional amendment. It would require a vote by two successively elected state legislatures, and, if approved, could go before voters as early as next year.

The funding proposal was criticized by the state’s Conservative Party, who said that James and Hochul want to “turn the state into a national mecca for abortion procedures wholly paid for by New York taxpayers.” In a statement, party Chair Gerard Kassar said the governor and attorney general have “no right to force New Yorkers to pay” for that.