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New York AG backs fund to aid those from other states who seek abortions in New York

In this Friday May 21, 2021, file photo, New York Attorney General Letitia James acknowledges questions from journalists at a news conference in New York. James has announced that she is running for governor, according to three people directly familiar with her plans.
Richard Drew
Associated Press
New York Attorney General Letitia James

New York Attorney General Letitia James is urging the Legislature to pass her bill to set up a $50 million fund to pay for abortion services for people who come to New York for the procedure from states where it is outlawed. She said it’s even more urgent after the leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

The measure, called the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Fund, would authorize the State Health Department to distribute the money to abortion providers in New York. The funds would finance the procedure, as well as travel, lodging and child care expenses, for women from other states where abortion could be banned. People from other states seeking care are expected to grow if the Supreme Court follows through on a leaked draft opinion and overturns or severely undermines the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the nation.

James said helping people come to New York to get abortions will prevent them from seeking dangerous, illegal practices that could lead to injuries or death, as occurred before the 1973 decision.

“The reality of the situation is that bans will not stop abortions,” James said. “Bans will only stop safe abortions. And that is why we are here today — to provide access to safe abortions. “

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, the right to choose an abortion could be weakened or eliminated in 26 states.

States including Texas already severely restrict access to the procedure, limiting it to the first six weeks of pregnancy, a time when most women first discover that they are pregnant. James said in 2019, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9% of abortions, or around 7,000, were performed on out-of-state residents. She said if just individuals from the neighboring states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, where abortion is expected to be restricted, come to New York to seek the procedure, that number is estimated to grow to 32,000 procedures a year.

The bill is sponsored in the state Senate by Cordell Cleare, and in the Assembly by Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas.

Gonzalez-Rojas said it also provides funds for the health care professionals involved in women’s reproductive health.

“And that means everything from allowing providers to get training and education and bringing more staff and security,” said Gonzalez-Rojas, who said the measure also provides money to pay for those who lack health insurance.

“So that people who don’t have insurance, don’t have access to insurance, can get this care,” she said.

Democratic Legislative Leaders, who hold supermajorities in both houses of the Legislature are expected to back some form of funding for out-of-state patients seeking abortions in New York.

Senate Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins has said the state is the “last line of defense” to preserve the right to choose the procedure.

Governor Kathy Hochul, who has said she will also ask the federal government for funding, has said New York will welcome out of state residents seeking the procedure with “open arms.”

“We’re not playing defense; we're playing offense,” Hochul said on May 3. “So my message to women all across this country is that New York, the State of New York, will always be there for anyone who needs reproductive healthcare, including an abortion.”

With just over three weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers are also considering other measures to strengthen abortion access in New York, including a constitutional amendment establishing the right to choose the procedure. AG James said she backs the concept, and said other rights upheld in other court decisions could be at stake as well, if the Supreme Court erodes the right to privacy that forms the basis for the Roe decision. Those decisions include Griswold v. Connecticut, which found bans on contraceptive use violated the right to martial privacy, and the 2015 decision finding that laws against same sex marriage were unconstitutional.

“It’s a slippery slope,” James said.

Governor Hochul also supports the proposed constitutional amendment. It would require a vote by two successively elected state Legislatures, and, if approved, could go before voters as early as next year.

The funding proposal was criticized by the state’s Conservative Party, who said that James and Hochul want to “turn the state into a national mecca for abortion procedures wholly paid for by New York taxpayers.” In a statement, Party Chair Gerard Kassar said the governor and attorney general have “no right to force New Yorkers to pay” for that.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.