ALBANY — Three bills in the State Legislature take aim at restrictive abortion laws in Texas and other states, shielding practitioners in New York from arrest, subpoenas and extradition for serving women who travel here for abortions or have abortion pills mailed to them.
The bills would prohibit state and local police and other law enforcement in New York from helping counterparts in other states with criminal investigations of abortions under their state laws, and from cooperating in lawsuits filed by individuals from those states.
“We have a choice and our choice is to be so-called innocent bystanders or play an active role in fighting for human rights,” Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), the prime sponsor of the bills, told Newsday.
Lavine said more than 30 states have proposed laws that would erode the right to abortion guaranteed by the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision.
This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to decide whether Mississippi's ban on all elective abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy is constitutional.
The Mississippi ban is considered a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which held that women have a constitutional right to abortion until the point a fetus can survive outside the womb — about 24 weeks, according to experts.
“This bill is another tool to help New York thwart interstate investigations by other states of abortions provided to their residents in New York State and to combat state policies that attempt to ban abortions and punish providers beyond their borders," Lavine said.
The bills are co-sponsored by another veteran member, state Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).
- One measure says “a police officer may not arrest any person for performing or aiding in the performance of an abortion” in New York State “or in procuring an abortion in this state.” That bill would prohibit any state or local law enforcement official from cooperating with, or providing information to, “any individual or out-of-state agency or department” regarding a legal abortion performed in New York State.
- Another measure states “no demand for the extradition of a person charged with providing an abortion shall be recognized by the governor,” which would be essential to extradite a person to another state.
- According to the third bill, no court or county clerk may issue a subpoena “in connection with an out-of-state proceeding relating to any abortion services or procedures." The measure also would allow New York to exempt abortion providers from the Interstate Depositions and Discovery Act, which makes it easier for people involved in legal actions in other states to take depositions and uncover records during the discovery process of a court case.
The New York bills have drawn opposition in part because of state laws requiring law enforcement cooperation across state lines.
In December, the federal Food and Drug Administration allowed certain abortion pills to be mailed, but some states have enacted laws to ban such mailings.
Advocates on both sides of the issue say it's unclear whether states can legally ban the mailing of FDA-approved abortion pills.
“When a medical professional breaks the law, they should be prosecuted, not coddled by Planned Parenthood’s political allies in the New York State Legislature,” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, a nonprofit group that lobbies on social and religious issues in Albany.
“We hope that Albany’s elected officials will have the sense to reject this kind of election-year pandering to a small portion of the Democratic Party’s progressive base,” McGuire told Newsday.
The New York legislation comes after Republicans in states including Texas, Oklahoma, Florida, Kentucky and Arizona have pushed through laws to sharply restrict providers from performing abortions.
The Texas law, enacted in 2021, bans abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.
The law makes no exception for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
As compensation for enforcing the law, Texas will pay $10,000 to individuals who successfully sue a provider or someone who assists a woman in getting an abortion.
The Texas Heartbeat Act focuses on “those who are causing and profiting from the preborn child’s death,” but not directly on women who get abortions, said Kimberlyn Schwartz of the Texas Right to Life organization.
Critics of the Texas law say six weeks can elapse before a woman knows she is pregnant, or before there is a detectable heartbeat from the fetus.
Democrat-controlled states have begun to respond.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California is backing several measures, some of which have become law, to protect women from Texas and other states who go to California for abortions by blocking arrest and extradition of providers who serve them.
Newsom says he hopes to make California a "sanctuary state."
In November, Vermont voters will consider an amendment to the state constitution to guarantee “personal reproductive liberty.”
Supporters of "Proposition 5" seek to make sure abortion is legal in Vermont for residents and women from other states such as Texas if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.
In New York, abortions are legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and beyond that if the woman’s physical or mental health is at risk or the fetus isn’t viable.
The state bills from Lavine and Krueger would prohibit New York courts from issuing criminal or civil lawsuit subpoenas “in connection with out-of-state abortion proceedings.”
The legislation also would bar extradition of New York providers of legal abortions and the “arrest and investigation” of providers in the state.
“What we are seeing in New York is critically important,” said Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization in Washington, D.C., that studies and advocates for reproductive health and abortion rights.
Women came to New York for abortions from across the nation under New York's more liberal laws before the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, and "now we are at a precipice where states may be able to ban abortions again,” Nash told Newsday.
The New York proposals are poised for floor votes before the end of the legislative session, scheduled for June 2.
Two of the bills were immediately moved to the powerful codes committees in the Assembly and Senate when they were introduced April 14.
The third bill — to prohibit New York courts from issuing subpoenas to assist out-of-state abortion investigations — is in the Senate and Assembly judiciary committees.
Lavine is chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee.
Democrats control both committees, as well as the Assembly and Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) haven't said whether they will support moving the bills to floor votes in their chambers.
Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul has announced her support for helping Texas women get abortions in New York, although she hasn't said whether she will back Lavine's and Krueger's bills.
“To the women of Texas, I want to say I am with you,” Hochul said in September. “Lady Liberty is here to welcome you with open arms."