A Curious Charge

Published on December 2nd, 2011

By Kathleen M. Gallagher

Yesterday the NYPD announced that a 20-year-old woman had been charged with “self-abortion,” a rare charge in the state of New York.  The arrest was made after the body of an unborn child was discovered in the trash near a Manhattan apartment building.  The arrest was possible because under New York’s Penal Law, abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy is prohibited unless it is necessary to save a woman’s life.

I suspect that the charge will be dropped or dismissed.  Despite what the Penal Law actually says on the books, the law is unenforceable under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton decisions of 1973.  There the High Court ruled that any abortion, at any time during pregnancy is allowable, as long as it is for a “health” reason, be it physical health, emotional health, economic health or social health.

Still, it’s a curious charge.  NARAL Pro-choice New York commented that the charge was “deeply troubling,” and added that “police have taken what should be a medical and public health matter and turned it into a criminal case.”  Ooooohhhhh, now I get it.  For years we’ve been hearing that the so-called “Reproductive Health Act” – i.e. the extreme abortion bill — is necessary to move abortion policies from the criminal code into the public health law where they belong.  Looks like advocates will use this case to make their case.

But I think NARAL’s words can be used against them.  Their position – that late-term abortions for any reason should be allowable without any consequences  — is radical and extreme and out of step with mainstream New Yorkers.  Late-term abortions should be banned, as our law intended.

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