Medication Abortion at Stake in New York State

Abortion is Healthcare sign

Reported by: Maya Sargent
Adapted for print by: Caroline Ealy

New York City has once again proven they are a frontrunner in reproductive health care. In January, the city started offering free abortion pills at four sexual health clinics. The city is investing $1.2 million in this rollout that will aim to make ten thousand abortion pills available over the next year.

During Mayor Adams’ announcement about New York City’s Women's Health Agenda, he explained why access to medication abortion is so crucial. “Historically women’s health has not been prioritized,” Adams explained. “We saw that so clearly last year when the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade. The Supreme Court’s decision has put women’s health in danger.”

Since Roe was repealed in June of last year, anti-abortion initiatives have popped up all over the country. Most recently, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas proposed legislation that would ban medication abortion across all fifty states. That could limit access to medication abortion even in states like New York where it is currently accessible.

Currently, people seeking the pill can access it without documentation or insurance in New York State. The medication provides an alternative option for women who are not able to get a surgical abortion. “No other city in the nation or in the world has a public health department that is providing medication abortion. We are the first,” Mayor Adams said.

Laura Wherry, Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Service at New York University, explained that access to a free pill breaks down some of the barriers women face when looking to have an abortion. “The cost of abortion, getting together the resources to cover abortion is often cited as a reason for why women have delayed abortion care,” Wherry said.

While access to free medication abortion is essential, it’s also important that the pill be accessible and convenient across the city. She says it will allow women to consider if they want to invest in having a child right now. “They feel like having a child now might interfere with other opportunities, maybe goals they have for their career or educational attainment,” Wherry explained.

Wherry’s research suggests that women have more opportunities when they have better access to abortion and contraception. “When women have better access to these types of reproductive health care, they are better off in terms of educational attainment, more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to graduate college, have better careers, and higher earnings,” Wherry said.

However, medication abortion isn’t a perfect solution. “You have to recognize early on that you’re pregnant,” Wherry explained. “You can only use that within the first 11 weeks.” Given these limitations, surgical abortions are an integral puzzle piece in reproductive healthcare.

Sunsara Taylor, the co-initiator for Rise Up for Abortion Rights, an organization fighting for reproductive equality, hopes other states around the country follow in New York’s footsteps in terms of accessibility – especially now that access to medication abortion is at risk. “You see a deepening and explosive divide, and one side of the other is going to win out,” Taylor said.

While the battle over abortion access rages on, Taylor has seen a shift in the landscape. “There has been a cultural acceptance of women being full human beings and participating in different realms of public and private life. Being able to make their own reproductive choices,” Taylor explained. “There’s been a lot more openness and destigmatization of abortion.” Even in light of these progressive shifts, access to abortions isn’t guaranteed across the United States. It isn’t even a guarantee in states with increased access, like New York.

“People in New York City are really taking for granted the fact that this assault on abortion has not hit them yet,” Taylor said. “We would not say we have freedom of speech if it was overturned by the supreme court in 20 states. You wouldn’t say oh but we have it in New York,” she explained.

Elizabeth Estrada has seen this divide between New York and other states. She’s the New York Field and Advocacy Manager at the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice. Although she lives in New York, 42% of Latinas between the ages of 15-49 live in states that have banned or are likely to ban abortion. These women are faced with additional financial and social barriers other than the abortion procedure itself.

“Getting child care to go, taking a day off work, having to find transportation. It means paying for flights, paying a cab, paying for a bus. And then perhaps being subjected to immigration checkpoints,” Estrada explained. This process is already complicated, but especially since Roe was overturned, many of the women she works with have expressed confusion.

“Many of us are scared, we’re uninformed about the laws even in New York,” Estrada said. “I talk to people in the community, Latinas, immigrants and non-English speakers who are confused about what even the laws are in a progressive state like New York.” That confusion is amplified by federal legislation working its way through the courts.

While medication abortion remains free and available in New York State for now, future decisions on the federal level could eventually limit that access. --

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