Advocating for Safe Abortion Care: Why Passing New York City’s Resolution 1635A is So Important

Each woman should have coverage for the full range of reproductive health care, regardless of how her insurance is paid for, to ensure that she has the means to access safe medical care from a trained provider.

Audience at the Council hearing on January 18th. (NARAL Pro-Choice New York/flickr)

The following is a testimony given before the New York City Council Committee on Women’s Issues in favor of Resolution 1635-A on January 18, 2013. The committee passed the resolution, and on January 23 the full council adopted it.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Jordan Goldberg and I am the State Advocacy Counsel in the United States Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights. I am here on behalf of the Center to testify in support of Resolution 1635A.

The Center is a global human rights organization that promotes women’s equality worldwide by securing reproductive rights as constitutional and international human rights that all governments around the world must respect, protect, and fulfill. We work in the United States and in countries all over the world on a wide range of reproductive health and rights issues, including access to contraception, pregnancy care, abortion services, and medically accurate and unbiased reproductive health information.

Resolution 1635A commemorates the 40th Anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade. The Court in Roe v. Wade recognized that the right to privacy as protected by the United States Constitution extends to individuals’ right to choose when and whether to have children. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 153 (1973). Twenty years later, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court reaffirmed the bedrock principles of Roe v. Wade. To quote that decision, written in 1992: “[F]or two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

Abortion is one of the most common surgical procedures sought by women in America. In fact, by the age of forty-five, approximately one in three women in this country will have had an abortion. Women seek abortions for many reasons: some choose to terminate unwanted pregnancies, while other women with wanted pregnancies ultimately seek abortions to protect their own health, to allow them to seek critical and sometimes life-saving medical treatment such as chemotherapy, or because of a serious fetal anomaly.

However, as the Council recognizes in Resolution 1635A, those who oppose abortion have spent the last 40 years trying to prevent women from exercising their constitutional rights. Stymied by the fact that the United States Constitution protects women’s ability to make their own reproductive decisions, opponents of abortion rights have increasingly used laws and regulations designed to make abortion inaccessible and unaffordable.

Although anti-abortion lawmakers allege that abortion restrictions improve women’s health, the reality is that many of the restrictions create unnecessary and in some cases harmful barriers to accessing an incredibly safe medical procedure. One of the most insidious examples of this type of legislation is the prohibition of both public and private insurance for this essential reproductive health service. Unfortunately, since 1976, the federal government has adopted the Hyde Amendment and related legislation that prevents many of the most marginalized women from accessing coverage for abortion.

Resolution 1635A recognizes that women need access to a full range of reproductive health care and health coverage for that care, whether through public or private insurance. Bans on insurance coverage for abortion, including the Hyde Amendment, are harmful, unfair, and disrespectful of women’s autonomy—the heavy hand of the government used to coerce women’s decision-making by withholding coverage that should be available. But the fact is that we don’t always know a woman’s circumstances—we’re not in her shoes. Decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child are best left to a woman and her family. Insurance coverage should provide a full range of legal medical procedures, including abortion, so a woman can make the best decision for her circumstances.

When a woman cannot afford to end a pregnancy when she needs to, the impact on her and her family can be far-reaching. She may put off getting medical care, or shut off her own heat or telephone or take another job just to be able to pay for the medical care she needs. Several years ago, the Center for Reproductive Rights engaged in a fact-finding project in the United States to determine some of the impacts of the Hyde Amendment. We documented stories from women who had gone without food for themselves and their children in order to find the money to pay for an abortion; a story of another woman and her husband who pawned almost everything they owned and still came up short; and other women who worked around the clock to try to save up the money for an abortion. These stories prove the larger point—that this is critical healthcare sought by women who far too often are being forced to make difficult, sometimes untenable, trade-offs in order to access the care they need.

As the Council sponsors have recognized in Resolution 1635A, each woman should have coverage for the full range of reproductive health care, regardless of how her insurance is paid for, to ensure that she has the means to access safe medical care from a trained provider.

For twenty years, the Center for Reproductive Rights has been litigating in courts and engaging in legislative and other advocacy efforts across the country to ensure that the protections of the United States Constitution as recognized in Roe and Casey continue to be available to women.  We have litigated in federal and state courts, challenging laws infringing on women’s rights to privacy and equality, and on physician’s rights as well.  On the 40th anniversary of Roe, we are thrilled to have this opportunity to urge the Council to adopt Resolution 1635A and to stand with us and so many others in our commitment to protecting and advancing women’s reproductive freedom.