Debate rages in Westchester over bill to protect abortion health care workers and patients
With the clock ticking down on Roe v. Wade, Westchester lawmakers are debating a new law that offers greater protection to health care workers and people receiving medical treatments, including abortions.
It was a lively night Monday as members of the public from both sides were called into the meeting to urge county legislators to either vote in favor or against the Reproductive Health Care Facilities Access Act.
The act would make it illegal to physically prevent or intimidate someone seeking medical services including by preventing protests within a certain distance around a facility.
It comes as the state expects a rise in the number of women coming to New York for reproductive care, as well as anti-abortion protesters - if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, which it's expected to do as early as this week.
"Allowing behavior like the clinic invasion at all women's health threatens more than the right to abortion and other reproductive health services, it also threatens the public safety," says Westchester County Legislator Maryjane Shimsky (D).
"It's about respect, it's about the opportunity for women to have autonomy and control over their own choices without being bullied or harassed," says Board of Legislators Chair Catherine Borgia (D).
During a public hearing call-in, critics expressed concerns. "I request that this legislature not engage in illegal repression of freedom of speech," said one caller.
Previous Boards of Legislators have tried to pass a similar bill, but the most recent push stems from an incident last year.
The county board still needs to vote on the bill, which could happen at their next meeting. If it passes, it goes to the county executive for approval.
Three men are awaiting sentencing for trespassing this month for entering an abortion clinic in White Plains and attempting to convince women inside to not have an abortion.
Tuesday's meeting comes the same day Gov. Kathy Hochul signed a package of bills expanding legal protections for people performing or receiving an abortion in the state.
One of the bills bars New York from assisting in most "out-of-state legal cases" involving abortion.
Another blocks misconduct charges against health care practitioners for providing abortion services to patients from states where it's restricted.
"The women of New York will never be subjugated to government-mandated pregnancies," says Hochul.