Let’s Be Clear: Abortion is Legal in New York State

Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to have an abortion…. The state shall not discriminate against, deny, or interfere with the exercise of these rights.

New York Public Health Law § 2599-AA

What are young New Yorkers hearing in these days since Roe v. Wade has been overturned? Given all the coverage about the end of abortion services, do youth know that abortion is still legal in New York State?

One thing you can do in the aftermath of this seismic shift is to make sure the young people you work with understand exactly what is going on. As sexual health educators, you’re no stranger to combating misinformation. Here is a Q&A to support your efforts.

What Happened? I thought they made abortion illegal!

On Friday, June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court withdrew its protection of abortion rights, turning the question of abortion legality over to the states. Now, state governments determine our rights. States have long been able to restrict abortion—for example, many states won’t let minors choose to have abortions unless they have parents’ permission. But now states are free to ban abortions entirely, and many are doing just that.

Fortunately, some states have acted to protect abortion rights—including New York.

What is the law in New York State?

Who can have an abortion in NYS?

In New York State abortion is legal, regardless of a person’s age, when it is performed “within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”*  This means:

In New York State, abortion is legal for any reason up until 24 weeks after pregnancy begins.

The Details: Pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg reaches the blastocyst stage (about 5-6 days after fertilization) and is implanted in the uterus. This definition of pregnancy, which New York State follows, was developed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and has been endorsed by many professional medical associations.**

Once they have been pregnant for 24 weeks, a person may have an abortion for either of these reasons:

  • The fetus has health or developmental conditions that mean it will not be able to survive (the fetus is not “viable”).
  • The person who is pregnant needs an abortion to protect their own life or health.

The Details: When deciding whether or not to provide an abortion at or after 24 weeks to protect a person’s health, a health care provider in New York considers physical, emotional, psychological, and familial factors, as well as the age of the patient.**

If I have an abortion, who will know about it?

Abortion services are confidential in New York State. No matter their age, young people who are capable of understanding the risks and benefits of abortion do not need to inform their parents or partners before having an abortion in New York State.***  While we encourage young people to talk with an adult they trust who can support them in their reproductive health decisions, no one in New York needs anyone else’s permission to get an abortion.

How can I pay for abortion services?

  • In New York State, Medicaid pays for abortion services for those who are eligible.***
  • Private insurance plans that are active in the NY State of Health exchange are required to pay for abortion services.***  
  • Those who are uninsured may be able to find help from abortion funds such as the New York Abortion Access Fund (Español) or other funds in the National Network of Abortion Funds.

Who can provide abortions?

In New York State, abortion services may be provided by certified health care practitioners working within their “lawful scope of practice,” including doctors, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and licensed midwives.****

How can I find a licensed provider?

Abortion Finder provides a directory of legitimate abortion services as well as more information about abortion rights in their state-by-state guide. It’s best to start at this link (or call the hotline below) rather than doing a simple Internet search because there are many “crisis pregnancy centers” advertising online that appear to offer help but do not offer medical services—they want to stop people from getting abortions.*****

Abortion Hotline: Attorney General Letitia James, law firms, and advocacy groups have launched a legal hotline to connect people looking for abortion resources with information. By calling 212-899-5567, patients can access information about their rights and where to go for care. Health care providers and people who are looking to provide abortion resource information to others can also call the hotline. Information is available in 12 languages.

Is a legal right the same as access?

No! For many reasons, young people may have a hard time obtaining abortions in a timely way. Access in New York will also become more difficult now that abortion is illegal in so many states. Demand in New York is going to increase exponentially, making it harder to find appointments.

Abortion Rights Are Under Threat

Let’s be clear about something else, too: Abortion will be legal in New York State unless and until Congress passes, and the president signs, a federal ban. There have already been bills introduced in Congress to ban abortion across the nation. Currently they are unlikely to pass, but this could change as new representatives are elected to Congress and the presidency.

As they learn more about the threat to their rights, young people may want to become involved in this issue. Nonprofit 501(c)3 organizations cannot become involved in electoral politics, but can certainly help youth build the skills to advocate effectively for their rights.****** The voices of young people are truly needed—and we can amplify those voices.

Thank You!

ACT for Youth sends our gratitude to all of you! We know you are doing everything you can to ensure that young people are educated and capable of caring for their sexual and reproductive health. You are on the frontlines of these changing times. Keep letting us know how we can support you.

* Reproductive Health Act, New York State Public Health Law Section 2599-bb. Abortion

** Commissioner Bassett Dear Provider letter, May 6, 2022

*** New York State: Safe Abortion Access for All

**** New York State Senate: FAQs about the Reproductive Health Act

***** NYC Health: Abortion. (See “Fake Clinics in Online Searches”)

****** Idealist: 9 Dos and Don’ts of Nonprofit Advocacy

Help me improve this piece! ACT for Youth will be putting information on our website and we want to make it as clear and informative as possible. Please share your ideas — What would you add or change? How are you communicating with young people about abortion? What resources would you share?

Author: Karen Schantz

Clearinghouse Director, ACT for Youth

3 thoughts on “Let’s Be Clear: Abortion is Legal in New York State”

  1. How do we respectfully address school personnel, parents, and their children who are pro-life?

    1. Hi Maria! That’s an excellent question and I hope others will weigh in. To be clear, I didn’t mean to suggest that *advocacy* for abortion rights is something we would/could do in all situations. But I do think that it’s important to be sure that all young people have the facts about current law in New York State. So maybe objections could be addressed along these lines:

      “People have a wide range of beliefs about abortion, and I’m not here to judge anyone for their beliefs or their personal decisions. Part of my role as a sexual health educator is to give young people information so that they can make the decisions that are right for them. Since the law has recently changed across the country, it’s important for everyone to be informed about their legal rights in our state.”

      I’m not entirely sure if this fits your question, but we might also invoke the reproductive justice framework. While everyone might not agree specifically on abortion, the framework (as SisterSong defines it) connects bodily autonomy–including abortion–with the human right to have and parent children in safe and sustainable communities. In settings where it’s possible to work with youth on advocacy skills, this might be a powerful and inclusive basis for programming (if it speaks to the passions of the youth involved).
      https://www.sistersong.net/reproductive-justice

      What are your thoughts?

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