Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference in Albany on...

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks during a news conference in Albany on Jan. 24. Credit: Bloomberg/Angus Mordant

ALBANY — Democrats who control all the levers of government in New York State had been preparing for the Supreme Court decision upending Roe v. Wade since 2019.

With adoption of the “Reproductive Health Act” three years ago and another series of bills this spring, New York lawmakers shored up abortion rights before  Friday’s court ruling.

They said Friday they were glad they acted back when others were questioning the necessity of passing a new statewide abortion law.

“For years when (Democrats) fought to pass the Reproductive Health Act, legislation that codified Roe v. Wade in New York State, we were told that it wasn’t necessary. That it was settled precedent,” Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said Friday. “I’m glad we didn’t listen to them.”

As a result, in New York abortions still are legal up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, and after that point if the woman’s life, physical health or mental health is at risk, a point Gov. Kathy Hochul reinforced Friday.

“I want everyone to know that abortion remains safe, accessible and legal in New York,” Hochul said, while calling the Supreme Court decision “repulsive at every level.”

The court decision landed at a critical point in New York’s election cycle: Not only are gubernatorial primaries set for Tuesday but also later this year all 213 legislative seats are at stake. Hochul is facing a three-way primary against Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.

Later Friday afternoon, the governor announced the launch of a public-education program saying abortion remains accessible in the state.

New York had legalized abortion in 1970 — three years before Roe. But supporters said the state law needed to be updated to ensure Roe protections.

The ground was laid in the 2018 election cycle, when Democrats won a supermajority in the Senate and Assembly. In early 2019, legislators quickly moved to enact the Reproductive Health Act, signed by then-Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
It codified — in state law — abortion rights protections granted in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

But the 2019 state law goes further in that it permits abortions late into the third trimester of pregnancy if the woman’s life or physical or mental health is at risk.

Opponents argued that criteria is too broad and allows abortions up to the time of birth. State records show 2% or fewer abortions are performed five months or later in pregnancies. The measure also moved abortion statutes from criminal law to health law.

Democratic legislators and Hochul took further action this year, just after a document leaked in May suggested the Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe.

They adopted new laws to protect abortion providers in New York who participate in abortion procedures or prescribe abortion pills to women in other states that decide to outlaw abortion.

Other measures included an expansion of who can perform abortions to include nurse practitioners, physician assistants and midwives to provide nonsurgical abortion care.

Hochul committed $35 million in state funds to expand abortion services and bolster security at clinics where abortions are provided. Security grants will be provided to protect women, practitioners and their staff.

Asked Friday if anything more needed to be done in Albany, the governor said they already took appropriate action.

"We saw this decision coming,” Hochul said. “We took preemptive measures. That's why just in the last two weeks I signed a sweeping package of bills, not just the money we allocated, but also said, we're going to protect, and give immunity to abortion providers in the State of New York.”

Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said New York would remain a “safe harbor” for those seeking abortions.

“Abortion care is health care and it will remain accessible to all who need it in New York,” Stewart-Cousins said. “Our safe harbor is ready to welcome those seeking refuge, with the promise that your choices will never be taken away in New York."

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