The following is a testimony given before the New York City Council Committee on Women’s Issues in favor of Resolution 1635-A on January 18, 2013. The committee passed the resolution, and on January 23 the full council adopted it.
My name is Andrea Miller and I am the president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health, which work here and across the country to ensure that every woman has the right and ability to make decisions about her reproductive health that are best for her life and her family. This includes preventing an unintended pregnancy, bearing healthy children, and choosing safe, legal abortion.
The resolution before you marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that recognized a woman’s constitutional right to determine the course of her pregnancy, which invalidated scores of criminal abortion bans and immediately and dramatically reduced maternal mortality and morbidity.
Roe also helped to level the playing field, giving women the opportunity to determine our futures and become more equal members of society. Indeed, as former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor—the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court—stated so eloquently when she refused to become the fifth vote to overturn Roe in 1992 – “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
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Unfortunately, a barrage of federal and state legislation has undermined the full promise of Roe, taking a disproportionate toll on low-income women. This includes onerous federal policies—and a host of copycat state laws—that withhold coverage for women who already have the least access and the fewest options to obtain a safe, legal abortion: women who qualify for Medicaid, women in the military, Peace Corps volunteers, federal employees, women in federal prison, and Native Americans covered by the Indian Health Service. Congress also unfairly restricts the District of Columbia from using even its own funds to provide abortion coverage for low-income women.
New York State has, commendably, stepped up to provide coverage for the full range of reproductive health services to New Yorkers who qualify for Medicaid. But that still leaves more than 170,000 women in New York City alone who are unable to use their health coverage for abortion services because they or their family members are federal employees or members of the military.
One of Roe’s central tenets is that a woman should be able to make her own reproductive health care decisions without government interference. This right should not be made contingent upon her economic circumstances or the type of insurance she has.
We thank the Council for not only commemorating this important anniversary, but also drawing attention to the need to correct the unjust policies that withhold coverage for abortion services for women who rely on public insurance programs.
By adopting Resolution 1635-A, the City Council can take a timely and principled stance against politicians who, unable to achieve their goal of making abortion fully illegal and inaccessible, have instead callously limited abortion access for some of the most vulnerable women among us.
This resolution epitomizes the kind of bold, forward-thinking action that cities and municipalities across the country can and do take to meet the real needs of women and families. It also brings home the message of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, which adopted a resolution last year spearheaded in part by our own Mayor Bloomberg urging “Congress and the states to pursue a positive agenda that reaffirms fundamental rights and improves women’s access to safe and comprehensive reproductive health-care.”
NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health look forward to continuing to work with elected officials and agencies here in New York and in cities across the nation who are united in our support for access to reproductive health care and women’s full equality under the law.
Follow the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) on Twitter, @nirhealth