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NY abortion law reignites conversation on abortion

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There are few topics as polarizing in our national conversation as abortion. While beliefs about abortion exist on a continuum, as with all other controversial issues, the extremes are what come most easily to mind: hardcore pro-lifers and hardcore pro-choicers engaged in an endless war, neither side willing to yield an inch to the other, the two trapped in a perpetual ideological deadlock.

Adding to the ideological conflagration, New York State recently passed the Reproductive Health Act (RHA) on Jan. 23, a bill, that in effect, codifies protections granted under Roe v. Wade. The bill was signed into law by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who claimed the act was a push towards a socially progressive legislature. The RHA guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion without restriction until 24 weeks of pregnancy, and it further protects the right to a late-term abortion should there be substantial danger to the mother’s health or doubts regarding the fetus’s viability. The timing of the legislation is also crucial: with Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court and mounting fears over narrowing interpretations of reproductive rights, solidifying such protections are now more important now than ever before.

Unsurprisingly, Cuomo saw immediate criticism from various bishops of the Catholic Church, with many calling for his excommunication over what they saw as an inappropriate and cruel law. Various pro-life organizations have also voiced their anger, arguing that the RHA is a gateway to greater access to late-term abortions.

Regardless of your individual beliefs, I think we can all agree that abortion is an incredibly complicated problem at the intersection of society, politics, and religion. It would be inaccurate to portray the question of reproductive rights as binary, because there is no correct or incorrect answer. When peoples’ beliefs differ so widely, the best possible option compromise, and Roe v. Wade was a good attempt at balancing both sides by providing restrictions while still allowing access. This case doesn’t necessarily suggest that such compromises always work, as laws are always being reinterpreted in narrower or broader ways, but at least it provides a starting point for future deliberations. In the same vein, the RHA should be considered in a holistic sense regarding its potential impacts rather than immediately praising it as revolutionary or criticizing it as inhumane.

With increasing restrictions on access to contraceptives and birth control, unwanted pregnancies have become more frequent, meaning that the demand for abortions is increasing. In some situations, going through with having a child can lead to greater financial burden and lower quality of life if that child cannot be adequately supported, both of which are unfavorable outcomes. Giving birth may also pose a legitimate threat to the mother’s health. With nearly 700 deaths due to childbirth every year, this is a vital consideration. In this sense, increasing access to abortions can be beneficial, provided they are early enough. Furthermore, the increased accessibility can also benefit rape victims who become pregnant. Victims of sexual assault are often reluctant to come forward to share their story or to seek help, so by making such services more readily available, it might help those who find themselves in such a difficult situation.

That’s not to say that there are no causes for concern. Some argue that the protections for late-term abortions are often exploited as a way to terminate a pregnancy after the deadline has passed, leading to an unjust loss of life. Perhaps most troublesome is that the law allows abortions to be carried out by health professionals other than doctors, which, while increasing the available pool of service providers, could also lead to health complications later on.

How the RHA will affect the scope of reproductive rights remains to be seen; with different laws for every state, it is difficult to gauge the national attitude on such a hot-button issue. Nevertheless, it is important to approach such complicated matters with reason and tact rather than uncompromising beliefs: intransigence didn’t work with politics, and it certainly won’t work with something as sensitive as abortion.