Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act into law. The law is being called by many pro-life advocates the most aggressive abortion measure in history, a sentiment celebrated by pro-choice advocates.
My purpose in this post and subsequent posts on this issue is to clarify the terms being used in this law, to describe the concerns those terms raise, as well as to describe the various perspectives from which participants in the legislative process (both legislators and regular citizens) arrive at their conclusions. This first post will briefly examine concerns over New York’s law as it relates to its description of personhood.
I believe this to be an important endeavor since other states, including New Mexico, my state of residence, are debating Bills with intended outcomes similar to New York’s.
The Reproductive Health Act defines a person as “A human being who has been born and is alive.” This definition does not consider the developing human fetus in terms of full personhood regardless of its viability outside the womb. Because of New York’s definition, abortions can be performed up to the due date if a physician, nurse practitioner, or nurse-midwife, with the consent of their patient, deem the pregnancy to pose a threat to the life or health of the mother.
New York’s definition of personhood, however, stands in conflict with existing Federal law, as defined in U.S. Code 1841 – Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which states, “Whoever engages in conduct that violates any of the provisions of law … and thereby causes the death of, or bodily injury to, a child, who is in utero at the time the conduct takes place, is guilty of a separate offense under this section.” The law goes on to state, “If the person engaging in the conduct thereby intentionally kills or attempts to kill the unborn child, that person shall instead of being punished for intentionally killing or attempting to kill a human being.”
With New York defining personhood in such narrow terms, how will late-term pregnancy and birthing complications be handled by physicians? To what extent will expectant mothers be encouraged to end their pregnancy through an abortion when a broader definition of personhood would facilitate better access to alternatives?
How will New York law enforcement officials now handle homicides involving the death of pregnant women and their unborn children? Will prosecutors charge criminals with two or more counts of murder, or will the unborn child no longer qualify for protection in New York?
The move to define personhood in such narrow terms is a concerning action that leads me to question the degree to which this law seeks to truly protect women. If “women’s lives matter,” as Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins claimed, why do they (and boys’ lives) not matter in the womb?
My next post will explore various perspectives on personhood.