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With the Supreme Court set to overturn Roe v. Wade, New York prepares to become an abortion safe haven

by Jessica Washington May 3, 2022

Co-published with THE CITY

On Monday, Politico published an explosive report that included a leaked draft of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s majority opinion in a Mississippi abortion case in which he searingly repudiates Roe v. Wade, calling the decision “egregiously wrong from the start.” 

Today, Chief Justice John Roberts confirmed that the draft was real, but insisted that it did not represent the final decision of the court, according to the Washington Post.  

Legal experts likewise cautioned the decision is not final and that justices can change their mind or conclude that while they support upholding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, overturning Roe v. Wade is a step too far.

“It’s not done inside the Supreme Court until the opinion is ready to be released,” said Stephen Wermiel, a constitutional law professor at American University Washington College of Law, “or in fact until it’s actually released.” 

Nonetheless, advocates and lawmakers in New York quickly mobilized today to protect abortion rights inside the state — and to cement the state’s status as a safe haven for those around the country seeking abortions.

Here in New York City, thousands of pro-choice supporters rallied at Foley Square, many wearing green, a color that has become internationally associated with movements for safe and legal abortions.

City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and New York Attorney General Tish James both appeared at the rally. “We will not take this lying down. We will walk, march, run to freedom — freedom for the right to choose and safe abortion access,” Adams said.

“I feel like we’re regressing as a country,” an 18-year-old protester named Alexis told THE CITY and The Fuller Project. “It’s 2022, and yet I don’t have full autonomy over my body.”

New York’s Safe Haven

Thirteen states have trigger laws which would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and 26 states have abortion laws on the books that are currently blocked by the courts, whose bans could be overturned if Alito’s draft opinion becomes the law of the land.

In 2019, New York became one of the first states in the nation to codify the right to an abortion. Lawmakers simultaneously ended the state’s ban on abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. 

That same year, the New York City Council voted to fund the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF), which helps low-income New Yorkers and people traveling from out of state to access abortion services. 

And earlier this year, Assemblymember Jessica Gonzáles-Rojas (D-Queens) and State Sen. Samra G. Brouk (D-Monroe/Ontario) introduced legislation that would increase insurance coverage for abortion care in New York State. 

However, despite, the strides New York has made in making the state a safe haven for abortion access, advocates like Sasha Neha Ahuja, who organzied the protest in Foley Square, say there’s still a lot more to be done. 

“This fight is at our doorstep,” said Ahuja. “It is not something that New Yorkers can look away from and say, ‘Oh, this is happening in Texas and Alabama and Mississippi,’” she added. “We cannot turn a blind eye to what’s happening in this country. We have to be a safe place for people to access care.” 

New York has long served as a sanctuary for abortion seekers. In 1970, three years before Roe was decided, the state legalized abortion, drawing hundreds of thousands of women from across the country seeking safe and legal abortions. With Roe now seemingly on the chopping block, abortion advocates and providers are readying themselves for a similar situation.

Ahuja’s suggestions include doubling down on existing laws at the city and state level, including increasing the Council’s existing spending on abortion access. Since 2020, the Council has allocated $250,000 each year for the New York Abortion Action Fund. 

“New York City Council has already begun funding abortion outright,” said Ahuja. “Expanding that pot of money is a huge thing that the Council can readily do as we anticipate more and more folks seeking access to states like New York.” 

At the state level, efforts are already underway to make sure New York can meet the needs of folks fleeing states with restrictive abortion laws. 

On Tuesday, González-Rojas and State Sen. Cordell Cleare (D-Harlem) introduced companion bills to create a state abortion fund that would ensure that providers get resources through the Department of Health to cover the potential influx of folks coming to the state to receive care.

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, New York State would become the closest abortion provider for roughly 190,000 to 280,000 women out of state, wrote González-Rojas in a statement. 

New York’s Congressional representatives are also engaged in the fight to protect abortion rights at the federal level. On Tuesday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) vowed to call a vote to codify Roe v. Wade into law. 

“A vote on this legislation is not an abstract exercise,” said Schumer at a press conference on Tuesday. “This is as urgent and as real as it gets.”  

The state’s own redistricting battles, as well as efforts across the country to shift the balance of power in Congress through gerrymandering, now take on renewed significance in light of Roe’s expected demise.

“There’s a big question mark, in terms of the you know, what the makeup of our congressional representation looks like,” said González-Rojas, in reference to the recent court decision to overturn the district maps created by the Democratic majority. “That could skew the congressional ability to fight for abortion access and reproductive justice. And, that’s why the urgency to do something is now, before we get to that point.” 

As of right now, it’s important to remember that the right to abortion is still constitutionally protected, said González-Rojas, who hopes that the leaked draft will serve as a call to action for residents and legislators alike. 

Calling your representatives in Congress to ask them to codify Roe and donating to local abortion funds are all ways New Yorkers can help, she said.  

“This is about dignity. This is about equity, this is about justice,” said González-Rojas. “We’re gonna keep fighting.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the State Senator who introduced a companion bill as State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi (D-The Bronx/Westchester).

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