New York Taxpayers Could Soon Donate to Abortion Access

A proposed bill in the state legislature would let New Yorkers use their tax returns to help people access abortion care.

[Photo: A young, Black woman sits in a doctor's office and smiles as she listens to her doctor's assessment.]
The New York Department of Health would manage the fund and distribute the money to nonprofit groups providing logistical and financial assistance to people seeking abortion care. Shutterstock

New York taxpayers could choose to contribute to an abortion access fund when filing their tax returns, under a proposed bill in the New York state legislature.

The fund would support organizations that provide logistical and financial assistance to people seeking abortions in New York. Under the bill, taxpayers could voluntarily contribute to the abortion access fund when they file their personal income tax returns.

“The barriers between someone wanting to have an abortion and being able to receive one can be cost, transportation, or childcare, so the bill creates a fund taxpayers can voluntarily contribute to in order to support entities that provide financial and logistical support to anyone facing a barrier to receiving abortion care,” state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-Bronx), the bill’s primary sponsor, told Rewire.News.

Currently, New York taxpayers can choose from 25 contribution funds when filing their tax returns. In 2018, taxpayers contributed more than $2 million to the existing funds.

The bill, which has six co-sponsors in the New York Senate, has not yet received a vote. Assembly Member Karines Reyes (D-Bronx) filed equivalent legislation in the state assembly, where it sits in the ways and means committee.

The New York Department of Health would manage the fund and distribute the money through a grant process to nonprofit groups. The state comptroller would be required to submit annual reports documenting how much money was in the fund the previous year and how it was used. Under the proposed legislation, the state would not be able to access the names of anyone who sought the money or who worked for the organizations receiving the money.

As many Republican-held state legislatures pass laws aimed at banning abortion, New York’s Democratic-led legislature has responded by strengthening and expanding reproductive health-care access. Last year, New York Democrats passed the Reproductive Health Act, which eliminated decades-old statutes criminalizing abortion, permitted abortion care after 24 weeks when the pregnant person’s health is at risk or when the fetus is not viable, and allowed nurse practitioners and physicians’ assistants to provide abortion services. Conservative Democrats and Republicans in the New York State Senate had blocked the act for years.

Last year, the New York City Council allocated $250,000 to the New York Abortion Access Fund to help people traveling from other states obtain abortion care.

Alleviating barriers to abortion care sends a message to people in the region and beyond that New York is a place to go for care, Biaggi said.

“It sends a signal to the rest of the country that we take this seriously,” Biaggi said. “This is one of the best ways to do that because it will signal that New York is unequivocal in supporting a person’s right to choose.”

New York has five abortion access organizations that could request money from the taxpayer contribution fund, including the New York Abortion Access Fund, the Abortion Fund of Planned Parenthood of Greater New York, the Access Fund of Aphrodite Medical, the Brigid Alliance, and the Joan Bechhoffer Fund. These funds help with the financial burden of receiving an abortion or the travel costs and logistics for patients coming from other states.

Planned Parenthood operates 54 health centers in New York, and it has seen an increase in patients traveling from other states in recent years, said Robin Chappelle Golston, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts.

“As we see other states continuing to push for egregious bans on abortion access and care, it is going to be even more important for these funds to be able to support people going across state lines to get the care they need,” Chappelle Golston told Rewire.News.

The need to travel to receive abortion care is not only an issue for people coming from other states to New York. It’s also a barrier for many New Yorkers who live in rural parts of the state, said Rebecca Davis, founder of Rally + Rise, a grassroots advocacy organization in New York.

Though New York is home to hundreds of facilities offering abortion care, 39 percent of counties in the state don’t have a clinic that performs abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“For people in those counties, there are financial burdens,” Davis told Rewire.News. “We take for granted the fact that if you live here and need abortion care, you can access it, but clearly there are people who can’t. Often that roadblock is financial. Having access to an abortion fund that helps get around that barrier only increases access.”