Remembering an Era Before Roe, When New York Had the ‘Most Liberal’ Abortion Law

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Emboldened by the prospect of a conservative majority on the court, some state legislators are already pushing for laws restricting abortion. Four states already have laws that would ban abortion in the event that Roe was overturned, while 10 states still have unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans on the books, according to data from Guttmacher.

If some states restrict the procedure, there are others positioned to pick up the slack. Nine states have already passed laws that would uphold a woman’s right to choose abortion before viability or when necessary to protect her life or health, including California and Nevada to the west, as well as Connecticut and Maryland to the east.

Some red states with their own abortion restrictions, like Kansas and Oklahoma, attract out-of-state patients because of their location. Clinics in those states help absorb the high demand for abortions in Texas, where access is limited, said Dr. Colleen McNicholas, an obstetrician-gynecologist who provides abortions in the Midwest.

Crossing state lines for an abortion is not an option for everyone. Like in the early 1970s, income is still a barrier to traveling long distances for the procedure. Many women who need to travel out-of-state must pay for transportation, hotel rooms and child care — all while potentially losing income from missed days at work.

No Longer the ‘Most Liberal’ Abortion Law

New York’s own legislation, which hasn’t been altered since its passage, no longer provides much solace to abortion activists who fear losing Roe entirely.

Although the state has supported broad abortion access — for example, its Medicaid program funds abortions for women in the lowest income bracket — the state law doesn’t meet the standards set in Roe, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

New York’s law does not allow for an abortion after 24 weeks unless it is necessary to save the woman’s life. Roe and subsequent abortion cases go further, holding that at no point in a pregnancy can a state limit access to abortion care if the woman’s health — not just her life — is at risk or if the fetus is not viable.

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