In 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, I was 14 years old and becoming politically aware.
One of the charged issues of the day was abortion.
The newspapers loved to print letters to the editor with one side repeating “they’re killing the babies” and the other replying with “a woman’s right to choose.”
The former usually based their position on religious faith, the latter on civil rights for women.
In 2012, I ran for state Assembly on a platform that expressed my commitment to supporting the principles of Roe v. Wade. I was elected. I have been lobbied to change my position. Many have offered to pray for my immortal soul. Nonetheless, I have replied that it would be a fraud on the voters to change my position.
I grew up in an area where the vast majority of my neighbors were Catholics of Irish ancestry who in those days supported the Church’s teachings on abortion.
Opinions of many have changed.
For example, Ireland legalized abortion in 2018 by popular vote. In Ireland, abortion is permitted during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, and later in cases where the pregnant woman’s life or health is at risk, which is the same standard Roe v. Wade adopted in 1973.
Religious freedom is very important to me.
My family came to this country, a place where differences in religious identity were protected by the Constitution, from a place where people had been trying to kill my ancestors for thousands of years because of their stubborn but highly honorable commitment to a different faith.
While not exclusively so, the anti-abortion position is fundamentally rooted in religion.
However, you will typically not hear anti-abortion advocacy from mainline Protestant clergy, nor where I attend services.
Those who call supporters of Roe v. Wade murderers are simply trying to impose their religious views on everyone.
Of course, those who are firmly convinced abortion is wrong can certainly counsel against abortion, but to label those with a different conviction “murderers” shows a lack of respect for freedom of religion, which should be one of the most fundamental principles of American life. It was one of FDR’s Four Freedoms that we fought World War II for.
Further, when a newspaper prints a letter calling me a “murderer” because I support Roe v. Wade, it is not acting responsibly.
That type of language is an incitement to violence against those who choose to have an abortion and those who seek to make sure that right is protected in law.
Such letters are also based on untruths as to what the Reproductive Health Act does and why it was passed. Newspapers should point that out.
WHAT RHA REALLY DOES
The law in New York since Roe v. Wade has always been that, like the new law in Ireland, an abortion is permitted in the third trimester to save the life or health of the mother.
The Reproductive Health Act simply codifies that standard for two reasons.
First, a backward looking Supreme Court is likely to overturn Roe v. Wade if this President gets another appointment to the Supreme Court.
Second, because the New York criminal law predated Roe v. Wade, it retained language punishing doctors who performed an abortion in the best interest of the mother’s health. The criminalization of that act was declared unconstitutional in 1973, so the law needed to be updated.
This is not unlimited abortion as the propagandists claim.
They say “health” is undefined, so it could mean anything.
Doctors have been applying that standard successfully since 1973.
I am not a doctor. Doctors determine what is a health risk. We rely on their medical expertise, their high ethical standards, and their interaction with their patient, who may of course consult a religious adviser, to determine whether an abortion should be performed in the third trimester for purposes of the health of the mother.
That is the standard adopted in Roe v. Wade.
A second issue raised by anti-abortion propaganda is that the law changes who may perform an abortion.
This is also false. Only doctors may perform surgical abortions and only in a facility that is approved in accordance with New York Public Health law.
There are non-surgical abortion procedures (not late term) that certain allied health professionals may perform that they have been permitted to perform under the laws defining their scope of practice that were enacted before the Reproductive Health Act.
My support for Roe v. Wade will not change no matter what charged and offensive language is hurled at me.
But propaganda does need to be distinguished from facts.
Phil Steck is the member of Assembly representing the 110th District, which consists of Colonie, Niskayuna and Schenectady.