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Gov. Hochul calls court decision a 'grave injustice,' says New Yorkers' right to abortion is protected

 New York Governor Kathy Hochul speaking at the University at Buffalo Aug. 31, 2021
WAMC screenshot
New York Governor Kathy Hochul (file photo)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Friday that recent actions in the state will help keep abortion safe, legal and accessible, despite the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on Friday to officially reverse Roe v. Wade.

In anticipation of the expected ruling on the 1973 abortion rights decision, Hochul and the Legislature took preemptive steps in June to protect those rights.

In a statement issued moments after the ruling was announced, the Democrat said “This decision is a grave injustice.”

“History shows us that when abortion is banned, abortion becomes unsafe for women,” the governor said. “Low-income individuals and people of color will be harmed the most.”

Later, after an event commemorating the Stonewall uprising that birthed the gay rights movement, she said it was a “very dark day,” and she fears the ruling could lead to a rollback of same-sex marriage and even the right to contraception.

“Heaven help us with this Supreme Court and their reckless disregard of all the values that we hold dear as Americans,” she said. “The right to have control over your own body. The right to marry whom you choose. This has opened up a real Pandora’s box.”

State Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins called the decision “abhorrent” and said it will have a “life-altering affect” on millions of women.

The Democrat was appearing on WNYC’s "The Brian Lehrer Show" as the decision was announced, and she called it a “huge step backward.”

“It’s such a violation of women’s rights to bodily autonomy,” Stewart-Cousins said. “And a slap in the face of the progress that we’ve been able to make in so many areas.”

Earlier this month, state lawmakers took several steps to protect the right to an abortion for patients both from New York and from states where the procedure will be banned now that Roe has been overturned.

They include prohibitions on other states to extradite a patient or a health care practitioner to face abortion-related charges if the procedure was conducted legally in New York. The state also does not have to honor a subpoena request from another state if it relates to abortion services in New York.

And health care professionals can’t be charged with professional misconduct or be denied medical malpractice insurance for performing a legal abortion.

The state budget designated $25 million to support abortion care facilities in New York, and an additional $10 million to beef up security at the clinics.

A proposal for an amendment enshrining abortion rights into the state’s constitution has not yet been approved by the governor and the Legislature.

Three years ago, New York updated the 1970 laws that legalized abortion in the state and codified the abortion rights in Roe v. Wade into state law.

Hochul said in mid-June that the amendment got bogged down, though, in details over its exact wording.

"They are close,” Hochul said. “It is simply a matter of language changes in the Assembly and the Senate where both sides feel very strongly about their positions. I have said ‘Put something on my desk. I mean let’s get this done.’”

Hochul is not ruling out an agreement on an amendment before the end of the year, but she said it might not be fully resolved until next year, meaning the earliest date the measure could go before voters would be 2025.

State Attorney General Tish James said in a statement that the ruling is "a vicious, dangerous, and deliberate attack on our most basic freedom as humans. Every single person in this country should have the right to make their own decisions about their own bodies.”

The Democrat promised that New York will always be a “safe haven” for anyone seeking an abortion, and she said she will “work tirelessly” to preserve that access.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called it “a horrifying step backward for our country, and an attack on women, their bodily autonomy and their ability to make potentially lifesaving health care decisions."

Anti-abortion groups praised the court’s decision.

Jason McGuire with New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, an evangelical Christian lobbying group, said he and his group “sometimes doubted that we would live to see the day when our prayers would be answered.”

He said the court has ruled “correctly” that there is no constitutional right to abortion.

New York State’s Catholic Bishops, in a statement, said they “give thanks to God for today’s decision.”

Republican state Sen. Phil Boyle said he’s introducing legislation to ban using state taxpayer money to fund abortions for out-of-state residents. It is unlikely to be supported by majority party Democrats.

Senate Republican Minority Leader Rob Ortt did not weigh in on whether the substance of the court’s decision is right or wrong.

In a statement, he said the ruling “returns authority over reproductive health laws where they belong — to the states.”

Ortt said the decision "will have no impact on New York’s laws or access to reproductive health services for women and families in New York.”

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.