Viewpoint: North Hempstead weighs repeal of town’s abortion restrictions

Originally published in The Island 360 on August 15, 2022.

Democrats on the North Hempstead town council voted at its Aug. 4 meeting to hold over a vote until its Sept. 1 meeting on whether to repeal a 50-year-old section of town code that allows only hospitals, facilities administered by a hospital or facilities affiliated with a hospital to terminate pregnancies.

“We are dealing with some antiquated and confusing language from a 50-year-old Town law that really needs to be addressed,” said Council Member Veronica Lurvey, who proposed the repeal. “We need to make sure women continue to be able to access healthcare they need, no matter what happens on the state level. The town shouldn’t be putting up barriers on woman’s right to choose.”

The vast majority at the well-attended hearing that went on for 2 ½ hours supported repeal. But the argument to keep the obsolete code in place boiled down to the fear-mongering talking points that anti-reproductive rights activists have used for decades in order to justify erecting work-arounds to a woman’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy, self-determination and equal protection.

Opponents to justify stringent requirements on abortion clinics give the impression that a “live birth” after a “botched abortion” is a common occurrence, when 93 percent of abortions occur in the first trimester before viability; 54 percent of abortions are performed using medication, not surgery.

In fact, 43 percent of abortions occur by six weeks of gestation, just 36 percent occur between seven and nine weeks, and 13 percent at 10-13 weeks; those that take place later are usually because of some abnormality that imperils the baby’s survivability or the mother’s.

But since this is town code, there is a new one: that heaven forbid, there would be abortion clinics opening on every corner and North Hempstead would become an “abortion destination” accommodating frantic escapees from slave states and even from other parts of New York state.

News bulletin: North Hempstead already is a medical destination for patients from around the world seeking world-class treatment at our top-rated hospitals and research centers, the No. 1 employer across Nassau County, and those out-of-towners may actually be sick.

And there was this, from a mother of  seven with 35 grandchildren: “Why in light of escalating violence in this nation anyone would favor rescinding a rule that keeps abortion mills out of their neighborhood, where two people come in alive, one comes out alive, the other dead. If the good people in Nazi Germany had a say in where the gas chambers were, would they want them in their neighborhood?”

Rehashing the old talking points as a wink-and-a-nod to justify erecting work-arounds to Roe’s protections of women’s reproductive rights, they claim that they are ONLY interested in the health and well-being of the mother in requiring clinics to be attached or associated with a hospital.  This segment wants certified surgeons and hospital grade equipment (in many anti-Choice states, they also require wide hallways and other absurdities) in order to save a mother who might bleed excessively or the baby who somehow is born alive after the procedure.

But the arguments are refuted by actual fact.

If these people who object to clinics really cared about health and safety, they wouldn’t insist on medically unnecessary limits like waiting periods, forcing women to see the fetus’ ultrasound, gestational age limits, parental notification and consent that delay the procedure – because every delay adds to the risk to the mother.

In fact, legal abortion is safer than childbirth – the United States has an appallingly high level of maternal mortality, which will only surge if women and girls are forced to endure childbirth, or be at the point of death before a medical procedure is performed.

“Doctors are consulting attorneys about the legality of treating ectopic pregnancy, D and C procedures important and vital to those who have had miscarriages, and providing care in cases of nonviable pregnancies,” said Suzanne Gottehrer of Nassau County Civil Liberties Union, said. “In addition to jeopardizing life, they are denying agency over their own body.”

“Pregnancies can be high risk. Access to safe medical care is essential to assure the best outcome for all,” said Dr. Kathleen Gaffney, a former Nassau County commissioner of health. “I support repeal, which as we have already discussed is unenforceable, but this action will end any confusion.”

The opposition is really about religion that believes life begins at conception rather than birth, and not concern for health.

“In Judaism, abortion is permitted and sometimes required if the health of mother is at stake,” Lauren Garfunkle, of the Nassau Council of Jewish Women said. “That’s not just physical, but mental and emotional health as well. We believe the dignity of all people is what is paramount. All breathing people. Jews believe life begins at birth. Because of this very important religious freedom issue, the town should align with state of New York, extend access, get rid of this antiquated law and bring democracy back to the people.”

There is a reason why the United States was built on separation of church and state.

Several at the town hearing in support of leaving the provision in the code pointed out that New York state already guarantees a woman’s right to choose (though that has not always been the case, and as we are seeing across the country, may shift with changing political administrations).

But they miss the point – or perhaps they realize the point – that amending the code has to do with access and these requirements were inserted into the code to limit access 50 years ago, “out of spite,” as Assemblyman Charles Lavine noted.

“This isn’t just about cleaning up an old law,” state Sen. Anna Kaplan said at the hearing. “This isn’t just about righting an historic injustice. This is about standing up for women. This is about standing up for our right to make decisions for ourselves. And this is about sending a message that we will always stand up for women in the Town of North Hempstead.

“In the last few weeks since our extremist Supreme Court overturned 50 years of established precedent and stole our Constitutional right to choose, we’ve all had to learn a tough lesson that we can’t sit back and expect that things will be OK here just because we live in a place where our rights are protected,” she said.

North Hempstead Supervisor Jennifer DeSena did not attend the Aug. 4 hearing. Deputy Supervisor Joe Scalero who presided (but can’t vote) insisted she had a pre-scheduled family obligation but she apparently did not mention such a conflict when the item was set on the agenda, even hours before the meeting.

Could it be that DeSena, who apparently has said she would vote in favor of repeal, is afraid of antagonizing the conservatives who put her over the top to win election?

She will have her chance to show where she stands on women’s reproductive rights at the town’s Sept. 1 board meeting, when the public hearing will be continued and a vote is expected.

Repeal this misogynist provision of town code.