Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced his support for the Reproductive Health Act in his “State of the State” address. The Reproductive Health Act would make abortion a “fundamental right” in New York law, rendering it very difficult to pass incremental pro-life laws in the future. Additionally, it would legalize abortions after 24 weeks for health reasons, allow non-physicians to perform some abortions, and remove some criminal charges against individuals who kill an unborn child against the mother’s will.
The fact that Governor Cuomo is willing to invest political capital in such legislation is puzzling to say the least. New York has one of the highest abortion rates in the country. Also, Americans United for Life (AUL) consistently ranks New York among the “least protective” states in terms of the amount pro-life legislation it currently has in effect.
Furthermore, even though New York is a blue state with strong sentiment for legal abortion, a recent poll commissioned by the Chiaroscuro Foundation and conducted by McLaughlin and Associates, finds that many aspects of the Reproductive Health Act are unpopular with New York residents. Over 78 percent of New Yorkers believe there is sufficient access to abortion in New York state. Similarly, 75 percent oppose changing the law so that someone other than a doctor can perform surgical abortions.
Interestingly, the same poll shows that a substantial majority of New York residents support a variety of incremental pro-life laws. The results indicate that well over 70 percent of New Yorkers favor parental notice laws, 24 hour waiting periods, and providing information about options and risks to pregnant women prior to the abortion.
Pro-life groups should continue to conduct and publicize research on attitudes toward incremental pro-life laws. This is because professional polling organizations rarely do this on their own. For instance, since 1995 Gallup has asked respondents to identify themselves as either “pro-life” or “pro-choice” over 35 times. In that same timespan, they have conducted opinion surveys about waiting periods before abortions three times and parental-involvement laws four times. This is likely because, up until recently, more people self-identified as “pro-choice” rather than “pro-life.” However, a substantial body of polling data indicates that many incremental pro-life laws enjoy broad public support—even in deep blue states like New York.