January 17, 2017

Assembly to Pass Legislation Protecting Women's Reproductive Health Rights and Access to Affordable Family Planning

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Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, at Capitol news conference, announced the Assembly's expected passage later in the day of the Reproductive Health Act, a bill to protect the reproductive rights of women and their access to affordable family planning.

New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie joined with Assemblymembers Deborah Glick and Kevin Cahill today to announce the Assembly's intent to pass two critical pieces of legislation that would protect women's reproductive health rights and ensure that New Yorkers have access to affordable family planning. By enacting the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, New Yorkers could be assured that fundamental reproductive rights are protected, regardless of potential changes in federal law.

New York was the first state to enact laws to safeguard women's reproductive health in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court's Roe vs Wade decision offered federal protection. Since then, the Assembly Majority has continued to pass legislation to expand these protections and promote gender equality. During the last legislative session, the Assembly also passed a measure to protect New Yorkers from employment discrimination based on their reproductive health choices.

"For years, we have been told by our colleagues in the Senate that these explicit state protections are not necessary because of existing federal law and Supreme Court decisions," Speaker Heastie said. "Now more than ever, it is very clear that those federal protections are in jeopardy and that New York must uphold our legacy as a progressive leader by protecting the most fundamental right of women to make their own decisions regarding reproductive choice and family planning. In order to achieve full equality, women must have full autonomy and equal access to contraceptives."

"I am grateful that Speaker Heastie and my Assembly Majority colleagues share a determination to fully protect New York women's right to reproductive decision making. We have not updated our laws since 1970, and it is vital to enshrine these basic protections in New York State law," said Assemblymember Deborah Glick, sponsor of the Reproductive Health Act. "While other states are passing draconian laws that would turn back the clock on women, New York must remain in the forefront by removing any unnecessary and unconstitutional burdens to exercising this right."

"With Congress preparing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, many New Yorkers are faced with losing the affordable family planning coverage that they have come to depend on," said Assemblymember Kevin Cahill, sponsor of the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act. "Family planning is undoubtedly one of the most important decisions we face and should certainly not be dictated by economic status. This measure would ensure that no matter what becomes of the Affordable Care Act, New Yorkers will have access to cost free contraceptives through their insurance. I congratulate Speaker Heastie and the Assembly Majority Conference for making these matters a priority and I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for his diligence in ensuring uniformity amongst the state insurers."

The Reproductive Health Act (A.1748, Glick) updates New York State law with protections recognized by the courts under the New York Constitution and United States Constitution. The bill updates portions of the Penal Law which have not been updated since 1970, three years before the Roe v. Wade decision. This update acknowledges that pregnancy termination is a lawful procedure and eliminates undue burdens on women seeking to exercise the right to make reproductive decisions. Under the proposal, any health care practitioner licensed, certified or authorized under title eight of the Education Law may perform the procedure within 24 weeks of pregnancy, when there is an absence of fetal viability or when necessary to protect the patient's life or health.

The Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act (A.1378, Cahill), introduced by New York Attorney General Eric T. Scheiderman, would codify the requirement under the Affordable Care Act that all health insurers provide cost-free contraceptive coverage as a part of their insurance policies. Under the proposal, insurance companies would have to provide cost-free coverage for at least one type of all FDA-approved contraceptives, including emergency contraception. The bill would also apply to voluntary sterilization procedures, extending coverage to both men and women, and would prohibit insurance companies from using medical management review restrictions to delay contraceptive coverage. In addition, the measure would also allow patients to receive a 12-month supply of contraception at a time.

"At a time when Republicans in Washington are seeking to roll back the gains made under the Affordable Care Act, it's important that New York lead by guaranteeing access to contraceptives," said New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, who introduced the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act. "Building on the legal opinion I issued last year, the Reproductive Health Act codifies in state law the right to choose established in Roe v. Wade, making clear New Yorkers' reproductive rights will not be jeopardized by Donald Trump's high court nominees. I applaud the Assembly, Speaker Heastie, and Assemblymembers Cahill and Glick for their leadership in protecting New York women's fundamental right to reproductive health care, and urge our colleagues in the Senate to act now."

"The New York Assembly has proven once again its commitment to protecting women's access to both contraception and abortion," said National Institute for Reproductive Health President Andrea Miller. "These bills will offer vital advancements in access to both abortion and contraception for New York State residents. By passing these bills, the Assembly is setting the standard for how a state can protect the rights and health of its residents, especially in the face of federal efforts to dismantle access to reproductive health care. We urge the Senate to do its job and follow suit, showing that the rights and health of New Yorkers are their top priority."

New York Civil Liberties Union Executive Director Donna Lieberman said, "It is long past time for New York to fully recognize a woman's ownership of her body and her destiny. Now that a new regime in Washington urgently threatens women's rights, we can't afford to wait any more. The Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraceptive Coverage Act are both critical to safeguarding women's health, dignity and rights in New York."

"We applaud Speaker Carl Heastie and the New York State Assembly Majority members for standing up for the reproductive health care services essential for our good health," said Kim Atkins, Board Chair, Family Planning Advocates of New York State. "While extreme politicians across the nation seek to shut down Planned Parenthood, leaving our communities without the quality health care we rely on, Speaker Heastie and his Assembly colleagues in the "people's house" are doing right by New Yorkers. We will not give up our legal right to make our own reproductive decisions or lose our access to reproductive health care. New York must enact both the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act and the Reproductive Health Care Act. In 2017 we look to all our state's elected officials to follow Speaker Heastie's call and unite to protect New Yorkers by ensuring equal access to affordable birth control and making Roe v. Wade's protections part of state law."

Christa R. Christakis, executive director of ACOG District II, said "As an organization representing women's healthcare physicians, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, (ACOG) District II strongly supports A.1378 and A.1748 that will protect women's access to reproductive healthcare in New York State. ACOG District II supports a woman's right to decide whether or not to have children and the number and timing of her pregnancies. To assist her in making these choices, full access to reproductive health services, including access to affordable birth control and abortion is imperative. Comprehensive contraception care and safe, legal abortion are necessary components of women's healthcare and ACOG District II thanks the NYS Assembly Speaker and the legislative sponsors for their leadership in ensuring women's reproductive healthcare decisions are protected in New York State."

"Changing political winds should never determine if a woman can get the contraception she needs," said Kelly Baden, Interim senior director US Policy and Advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights. "All women deserve access to contraception and we are proud to support this measure."

Dr. Anne Davis, Consulting Medical Director at Physicians for Reproductive Health said, "As physicians, health and safety are top priorities for our patients. The Reproductive Health Act would permit health care professionals to provide quality health care without fear of criminal consequences, allowing providers to keep a woman's health front and center in every clinical decision. The Reproductive Health Act encourages doctors to be doctors-to save lives, protect women's health, and support families the best way we know how."

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