Social Justice and the Worst Part of New York’s Abortion Law

The state of New York celebrated the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by ensuring that abortion rights in the state cannot be changed even if the landmark Supreme Court case is overturned.

On Tuesday, the New York Senate and Assembly together passed the Reproductive Health Act (RHA). Under the act, elective abortions are legal until twenty-four weeks after conception. Abortion is legal until birth if performed for the health of the mother.

In many ways, this law only reiterates what is already legal in New York under Roe v. Wade. There don’t appear to be any new laws implemented.

The changes lie in certain laws and codes that are repealed or altered, and this is where the RHA becomes especially concerning.

One of the most disturbing sections of New York’s Reproductive Health Act is buried under technical legal jargon.

“Section 3: Section 4164 of the public health law is REPEALED.”

This innocuous, seemingly procedural sentence bears troubling implications and begs some important questions.

First, let me summarize this section of the public health law.

Section 4164 requires that a second physician be present during any abortive procedure. The first physician performs the abortion. The second physician is there in case the abortion results in a live birth. That second physician “shall be in attendance to take control of and to provide immediate medical care for any live birth that is the result of the abortion.”  

In other words, if the baby is born alive, the second physician is there to take care of the baby and make sure the baby receives all available medical treatment.

The statute continues. The child who survived the abortion procedure “shall be accorded immediate legal protection under the laws of the state of New York, including but not limited to applicable provisions of the social services law, article five of the civil rights law and the penal law.”

To clarify, again, this section of the public health law ensures that the now-born baby is given all necessary legal protections. This child is recognized as a full human being and citizen protected by national, state, and local laws.

All of this, from the second physician present to care for the child to the legal protections provided to children born under these circumstances, has been thrown in the trash.

Which is troubling, to say the least.

Under New York’s new law, a child born alive during an abortion procedure has no guarantee of medical care and has no legal protections under the law. The child is considered less than human.

So what will happen in this instance? Will the child be left to die? Will the child be actively killed by the physician performing the abortion (remember, legal and civil protections have been stripped from the child)?

The consequences of this section of the law should strain the moral compass of anyone who claims to be compassionate, caring, and (especially!) Christian.

Don’t forget, the repeal of this section of the public health law would apply to those late term abortions performed to save the life of the mother. But if the child was carried to term, and the abortion being performed to protect the life of the mother resulted in a live birth, why wouldn’t every effort be made to save both lives?

I can’t imagine the heartbreaking decision to go through with an abortion to save the life of the mother. I can’t imagine the agony of choosing one life over another.

So I have to ask.

Wouldn’t the safety of mother and child be the greatest victory?

Why strip the rights and protections from the child in the name of protecting the mother? It makes no sense.

And what of those unborn children who die as the result of their mother being assaulted? Certain repeals and code changes in the RHA include language about abortions only being performed by medical professionals and doctors. If this language is repealed, is there other language within New York law that gives recourse to a mother whose unborn child is killed against her will?

In the name of protecting women, children have been put at risk and women who are victims of forced abortions seem to have lost legal recourse. Our most vulnerable have now been made more so.

In the first century, sister and brother Christians were known for saving children left to die by exposure to the elements. The Church entered the Roman world “condemning abortion and infanticide as loudly and as early as it could.”

I pray that we would continue this ancient Christian work today.

And I pray that social justice advocates would be on the front lines of the anti-abortion fight.

Yes, pro-life work is more than being anti-abortion. A truly pro-life ethic requires condemning abortion while also working for the protection and care of women and girls.

It means not only working to “defund Planned Parenthood”, but promoting ethical crisis pregnancy centers and ensuring that ethnic minorities and the poor have access to the health care that they need.

It means addressing the mortality rate faced by black women that far surpasses any other group of women.

It means ready access to prenatal care, adoption agencies, postpartum counseling, career training, education, and child care. It means empowering women and protecting children.

For those who care about social justice, pro-life work is whole-life work.

And, honestly, for too long the pro-life movement has harbored racism, sexism, and a disregard for the health concerns of women and children. These cancers must be removed from the pro-life movement if social justice advocates, particularly black and other non-white sisters and brothers, will feel comfortable being a part of today’s pro-life movement.

But such reservations about the evangelical pro-life movement cannot lead us to ignore laws like the one passed in New York. Legal protections for the killing and neglect of infants are abhorrent and wicked. They must be denounced as such. This is part of our call to social justice.

My prayer is that laws like the Reproductive Health Act would draw condemnation from all corners of the Christian world and that such an act would bring unity between those who disagree about social justice.

And I pray that the growing whole-life movement typified by groups like The And Campaign would become the loudest voice in the anti-abortion movement, a movement that must see all life as precious and all people of all ethnicities and national origins as worthy of dignity and protection from womb to tomb.

As we work to promote such abundant life, let’s continue our fight against laws like the Reproductive Health Act.

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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