Friday, February 8, 2019
NY’s Reproductive Health Act is Not Radical; It Simply Recognizes that the Lives and Dignity of Pregnant People Count Too
NY’s Reproductive Health Act is Not Radical; It Simply Recognizes that the Lives and Dignity of Pregnant People Count Too (Feb. 7, 2019), by Cynthia Soohoo:
Not surprisingly, President Trump’s attack on New York’s Reproductive Health Act during Tuesday night’s State of the Union address blatantly mischaracterized the RHA. But it also underscores a glaring gap in anti-abortion advocates’ pro-life views -- the right to life and dignity of people who are pregnant.
The RHA continues to recognize a state interest in fetal life and prohibits abortions after 24 weeks in almost all circumstances. However, the law also recognizes that in some situations, denying a pregnant person the ability to end a pregnancy imposes serious and irreparable harm on her, including situations where the pregnancy endangers her life and health. And in those situations, the state cannot force the pregnant woman to continue the pregnancy against her will. This is consistent with current Supreme Court jurisprudence and international human rights law. The UN Human Rights Committee made this explicit in a recent General Comment clarifying that while states can regulate abortions, they should not do so in a manner that violates the right to life of the pregnant person or her fundamental human rights.
The RHA does no more than protect the human rights of pregnant people. The law only allows abortions post-24 weeks in two situations. First, abortions are allowed where the fetus will not survive outside of the womb. The RHA recognizes that a woman should not be forced to continue what was often a wanted pregnancy -- knowing that the fetus will not survive -- against her will. In such cases, the state’s interest in protecting a viable fetus is not at issue, and human rights experts have held that denying a woman access to an abortion in these circumstances is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.
Second, the RHA allows a woman to have an abortion where continuing the pregnancy endangers her life or health. Some women may choose to continue pregnancies in these circumstances. But the RHA acknowledges that the pregnant person must be allowed to make her own choice taking into account the risk that she faces and the impact her death or disability would have on her family and community.
In both situations covered by the RHA, human rights experts have held that state denial of an abortion violates the human rights of the pregnant person. In fact, concern over state prohibition of abortions in those circumstances led UN human rights experts to write to the U.S. to encourage passage of laws like the Reproductive Health Act. This is not a radical position. It is merely the recognition of the value of the life and dignity of pregnant people. The failure of critics of the RHA to understand this is a glaring gap in their “pro-life” views.