ALBANY — As this year’s legislative session races to a close, progressive Senate Democrats increased their push Wednesday to pass a bill to create a public fund to help low-income New Yorkers with abortion expenses and related care.
Bill S.758/A.1926, sponsored by Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Pelham, and Assemblymember Karines Reyes, D-Bronx, would create the New York State Abortion Access fund that would allow taxpayers to make a voluntary donation to the fund on their personal income taxes.
The fund would have no minimum requirement or be supported by other public dollars.
“Many low-income New Yorkers — young people, people of color and undocumented immigrants — face very difficult financial barriers to accessing abortion care,” Biaggi said in West Capitol Park on Wednesday. “Obstacles like travel expenses, child care, the cost of the procedure itself, should never be things that stand in the way of exercising someone’s constitutional and constitutionally protected right to choose.
“This bill will give a majority of New Yorkers who support the right to an abortion a chance to put their values into action.”
Creating the New York State Abortion Access fund would make a woman’s right to abortion — codified in state law in the Reproductive Health Act in 2019 — a reality, the senator said.
Lawmakers are pushing to strengthen New York’s abortion laws as the highest federal court is slated to take up a case in the next term that could affect abortion access in other states.
The landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade established the right to an abortion nationwide, but courts continue to tussle over the boundaries of the ruling as many states have passed laws to restrict the procedure.
The battle will come to a head when the Supreme Court takes up a controversial Mississippi law that bans abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The case is considered a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.
If the law is upheld, the case could usher in similar restrictions in other states, such as in the Midwest, that have tried to limit abortion.
“As abortion rights are under attack across this entire country, New York has to — it must — continue to be a beacon of light for those who seek care by creating an abortion access fund,” Biaggi said. “...Even if New Yorkers donate just $1, it is sufficient enough to make a difference.”
New Yorkers have the option of donating to other similar funds when filing their income tax returns, such as efforts to preserve trees or aid retired racehorses.
Taxpayers could donate as much, or as little, as they choose if the measure to create the fund becomes law.
“This bill is a no-brainer,” said Sen. Robert Jackson, D- Manhattan. “Unplanned pregnancy is an experience shared by people around the world, regardless of income, religion or their legal status. Unintended pregnancy rates are highest in countries that restrict abortion access.”
Officials argued passing the measure would create equity in sexual and reproductive health care.
“Long-standing racial, ethnic disparities in reproductive health access services and outcomes are rooted in legacies of unequal treatment,” Jackson added.
Sen. John Liu, D-Queens, said women should not be excluded from their legal right to abortion because of lack of access to money.
“Women should be afforded this health care right called abortion even if they can’t afford it in the traditional means,” Liu said.
If passed, the fund would be available to any person seeking abortion access in New York, including out-of-state residents.
The state Health Department commissioner would issue a Request for Proposals to fund nonprofits that provide support to women seeking abortion services. Monies would be payable from the fund through the state Comptroller’s Office on vouchers approved by the state health commissioner, according to the proposed law.
The fund would also assist nonprofit organizations that help New Yorkers overcome logistics to access abortion care.
Robin Chappelle Golston, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, said the fund would provide support to individuals in need of abortion services regardless of income or location.
“It also destigmatizes abortion by being seen as it truly is: Health care,” Golston said, adding the fund would help break down remaining barriers to abortion access statewide.
“We know the greater the distance, comes greater out-of-pocket costs and delayed care,” she said. “A voluntary contribution to support abortion access funds would provide New Yorkers an impactful way to support reproductive health care for all.”
Travel and costs pose some of the greatest barriers to abortion access, especially for women in rural communities and those seeking abortion services later in pregnancy, Brigid Alliance Executive Director Odile Schalit said.
“Ultimately, many would take extreme measures to get there, while many others would abandon their desires or needs to have an abortion entirely,” Schalit said.
The alliance, formed in 2018, assists people traveling into New York to access abortion services because their state or locality lacks a provider or New Yorkers who were delayed in accessing care.
“...For too many and for too long, barriers like the cost of procedures have prevented people from accessing timely, life-affirming and life-saving abortions, from having their basic health care needs met,” Schalit said. “Financial issues like the cost of procedures cause significant delays in accessing care, increasing the risk of mental health outcomes and the risk of pregnant people finding alternative means of ending their pregnancies.”
Abortion-access organizations help arrange transportation or ride-sharing services, help with gas, toll or car rental expenses, housing or meal stipends to assist women unable to access abortion services.
The bill was referred to the Senate Finance Committee on Jan. 6. The Assembly measure was referred to the Ways and Means Committee on Jan. 13.
From January to April, congressional legislators from 46 U.S. states have introduced 536 bills to reduce abortion access and 146 abortion bans.
New York is a reproductive health care sanctuary state.
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.