Erika Christensen said she decided to terminate her pregnancy at 32 weeks when she found out the baby she would give birth to would not be able to breathe outside of her body.
Christensen, from Brooklyn, was shocked to learn in her known-to-be progressive home state of New York her medical decision was criminal, she said.
“Our trauma and our grief were compounded by having to leave the state to get on a plane and fly across the country and play a small fortune to mercifully end my pregnancy,” Christensen said, joined by her husband Garin Marschall and their baby, at a rally for Councilwoman Anna Kaplan on Thursday. “And we were lucky because we could afford to that.”
Christensen and Marschall are now patient advocates for the Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would change the state’s language surrounding abortion from the penal code to public health law.
Kaplan, the Democratic candidate for New York State Senate District 7, said she supports the bills that strengthen women’s right to choose during her rally outside of the Nassau County Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building.
In a statement, Phillips said she is pro-choice and “passionate about protecting women’s health,” but does not support the bill because it “goes too far.”
The Democratic-controlled Assembly has passed the bill for several years, most recently in March.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also shown support for protecting women’s reproductive rights, tweeting “I pledge to do everything in my power to protect access to all reproductive health services and to codify Roe v. Wade into the NY State Constitution.”
In Senate, the bill did not make it out of committee and brought to a vote.
“Some lawmakers in Albany believe they can totally ignore this problem because people most affected suffer silently intimated by stigma and shame,” Christensen said.
Kaplan said that her opponent, incumbent Elaine Phillips (R-Flower Hill), has never made an effort to bring the bill to the floor.
“If she won’t act, I will,” Kaplan said.
Phillips, in her statement, noted that she is a sponsor of the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, and believes “all women deserve timely access to contraceptives and information to help plan their families and protect their health.”
“Protecting women’s health is also the reason why I do not support the current version of the so-called Reproductive Health Act,” Phillips said. “I wholeheartedly support Roe v. Wade, but this bill goes too far, and threatens the health and safety of women by removing any restriction on late term abortions, and allowing non-doctors to perform abortions which could jeopardize a woman’s health.”
Chelsea Polis, an epidemiologist whose work involves improving global sexual and reproductive health, noted on Twitter that a National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine report found that physicians and advanced practice clinicians can safely and effectively provide mediation and aspiration abortion.
The current New York state law was written in 1970, three years before the Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade.
New York’s pre-dating law is inconsistent with the rights granted under the federal decision. With the announcement of Justice Anthony Kennedy retiring from the court, and an expected conservative appointment from President Donald Trump, Roe v. Wade could be overturned.
If overturned, abortion rights are granted by individual states – an outcome that Kaplan said could “bring us back to the dark ages.”
“I promise you that if I’m elected I will make New York a state where women are safe and privacy is respected,” Kaplan said. “… No one but women and doctors will have the … choice to make these deeply personal and private decisions…”
If passed, the bill would repeal criminal abortion statutes and create a new section of public health law to regulate abortion.
It would also include exceptions to abortion law to protect a woman’s health and for instances of fetal non-viability, in some cases into the third trimester.
The bill would also expand the current law to allow nurse practitioners, physicians’ assistants and other health care professions to provide abortion services.
Democrats tried getting a vote on the Reproductive Health Act near the end of the session by attaching it, along with the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, as hostile amendments to another bill.
The GOP had a slim one person majority over the Democrats in the Senate after all but one in a group of Democrats caucusing with the Republicans, under the title Independent Democratic Conference, reunified with the members of their elected parties.
State Sen. Thomas Croci, a Republican, left at the end of the session when he was called for Navy duty, leaving the Senate at a 31-31 breakdown.
The legislative session ultimately ended without a vote on either bill.
The November election could give Democrats control of the Senate, allowing for the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and other bills the Republicans have not brought to floor votes for years.
Christensen also called out “moderate state senators” who she said are “pro-choice during election years.”
“They are happy to stand with Planned Parenthood because they know a majority of New Yorkers support pro-choice agenda, but when given a real chance to stand with women in this state, where are they?” Christensen said. “It’s time to take a vote and they’re taking a convenient bathroom break.”
Christensen said she’s met with Phillips’ office, and her husband has met with the state Senator herself.
Marschall said he went up to Albany as part of the National Institute for Reproductive Health Day of Action and met with a number of senators, including Phillips.
Along with members from the National Institute and Civil Liberties Union, Marschall said he spoke broadly about the bill.
He also shared his own story, he said.
Marschall said Phillips implied she was unaware there was a bill to address the issue, which she said seems unlikely given the fact that he, and other advocacy groups, had met with her office or her personally before.
“It was frustrating because it’s certainly legislation that has been around Albany for a while,” Marschall said. “… But she sort of kept steering the conversation away from it and seemed liked she was avoiding being pinned down to a stance on it.”
Kaplan was joined by her fellow North Hempstead Town Board members Supervisor Judi Bosworth, Councilman Peter Zuckerman, Clerk Wayne Wink and Receiver of Taxes Charles Berman, in showing support for the bill at the rally. Hempstead Town Clerk Sylvia Cabana also came out to voice her support.
Another Democratic Senate candidate, Kathleen Cleary who will face Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan for his 2nd District seat in November, also came to Kaplan’s rally to voice her support for the bill.
Christensen is urging voters to take a moment and learn where a candidate stands on abortion reform – with pregnant people or anti-choice ideologues.
“Despite what many in Albany seem to think politics is not a game for most New Yorkers, it’s personal,” Christensen said. “It’s about whether government is with you or against you on the hardest days of your life.”
This story was last updated Friday at 4 p.m.
Reach reporter Rebecca Klar by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 204, or follow her on Twitter @rebeccaklar_.