New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in Queens on...

New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in Queens on May 6, 2019. Credit: Charles Eckert

ALBANY — A common, yet little-known practice of performing pelvic exams on sedated women without their consent while being treated in teaching hospitals is now prohibited in New York, according to sponsors of the measure signed into law Monday by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Cuomo also signed a measure that prohibits ambulance workers from selling personal health care information about the people they serve, and another measure which clarifies that convictions for small offenses such as violation-level possession of marijuana will be sealed from the public.

The bill targeting pelvic exams performed without permission was co-sponsored by Assemb. Michaelle Solages (D-Elmont). The law includes a chilling justification: “If you happen to have had a gynecological surgery at a major teaching hospital in the U.S., there is a good chance that after you were rendered unconscious, numerous medical students used your body to learn how to perform a proper pelvic exam.” The bill continues to say patients never knew of the exams, although they probably left the hospital with some pain and bruises in the pelvic area.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, and the Association of American Medical Colleges condemn the practice. Yet the exams on unconscious women without their consent have been outlawed in just five states before New York joined them Monday.

Violating the law will result in a charge of professional misconduct punishable by state licensing regulators.

Another bill signed Monday will make a crime of ambulance workers selling personal medical information about patients to marketing firms. Before the new law, emergency first-responders could sell the addresses, phone numbers, prescriptions and medical history of the people they treated and transported. The new law limits release of the data to health care providers, the patient’s insurance company and “parties acting under appropriate legal authority.”

“Under no circumstances, when someone is in the middle of a life-threatening crisis, should they have to worry about their information being sold for any reason,” said the bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. John Liu (D-Queens).

The third bill signed into law Monday clarifies state law. The State Legislature and Cuomo are decriminalizing marijuana possession and the new law clearly states that past convictions for low-level marijuana possession are sealed, and can’t be seen by employers, college officials and others. Only a judge’s order can unseal the records under the new law.

“As we continue to make necessary changes to our justice system, we must correct technicalities in the law that unduly disadvantage New Yorkers,” said Sen. Jamaal Bailey (D-Bronx). “The inconsistency in the statute concerning the sealing of petty offenses needed to be remedied, as it had the potential to unintentionally derail the lives of those who should reasonably expect their records would be sealed.”

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