New York-Style Abortion Law Has Been on Books in California for Years

February 1, 2019 Updated: February 7, 2019

While a wave of backlash hit New York’s government for passing a law relaxing abortion restrictions, California has had similar, if not looser, abortion laws for years.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure on Jan. 22 that allows abortions as late as the time of birth if “necessary to protect” the woman’s life—or health. While he celebrated by having the spire of One World Trade Center in New York City lit up in pink, pro-life advocates have called for his excommunication from the Catholic Church.

A major point of contention for opponents of abortion comes with the addition of “health” to the reasons for allowing late-term abortion. Previously, New York only allowed abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy if the life of the mother was at risk.

Cuomo said the bill simply codified the Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, a claim contested by others, including Albany Bishop the Most Rev. Edward B. Scharfenberger.

Yet, California has had Roe v. Wade codified for years in a way that seems to go beyond the New York law.

In California, abortion is “unauthorized” if “in the good faith medical judgment of the physician, the fetus was viable” and “in the good faith medical judgment of the physician, continuation of the pregnancy posed no risk to life or health of the pregnant woman.”

Neither the New York law, nor the California law, defines the “health” part, but a 1973 Supreme Court decision in Doe v. Bolton stated that the attending medical professional may judge the woman’s health considering “all factors—physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age—relevant to the well being of the patient.”

That opens the door to a situation described by Abby Johnson, the former director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Texas who later turned against abortion.

“What this means is that a late-term abortion can be provided for any reason, as long as the abortionist checks a box on her chart stating it was affecting her ‘life or health.’ No documentation of proof is required,” she wrote in a 2016 article.

California’s legal barrier of “no risk” suggests that even a small amount of risk to mental health would suffice to clear the threshold.

A similar law was proposed by Virginia state lawmaker Kathy Tran, causing a backlash, especially after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, responded by suggesting that parents should have the right to have their baby killed even after delivery in cases when the baby has “severe fetal abnormalities” or is deemed “nonviable.”

President Donald Trump commented on the issue in a Jan. 31 tweet, saying that “Democrats are becoming the Party of late-term abortion.”

Only 28 percent of Americans think abortion should generally be legal after the first trimester, according to Gallup.

Does This Happen?

Because California doesn’t release official statistics on abortion, it’s hard to tell how many late-term abortions it performs. Close to 160,000 abortions were performed in California in 2014, according to a 2017 paper by the left-leaning Guttmacher Institute.

Based on data from California’s Medicaid program (Medi-Cal), 1 in 12 abortions are performed by the “Dilation and Evacuation” procedure, for which “long, heavy forceps are frequently required” to pull out body parts of the fetus. The procedure is used for abortions after 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy, a 2016 Medi-Cal document stated (doc). If data of the procedure within the Medi-Cal system holds statewide, some 13,000 such procedures were performed in California in 2014.

New York, on the other hand, releases detailed statistics, showing over 82,000 abortions were undertaken in 2016. Of those, nearly 60,000 were done in New York City (pdf).

About 1 in 20 (over 4,100) were done at 16 or more weeks of pregnancy. At 16 to 17 weeks, the baby is about 5 inches tall, exhibits coordinated limb movement, and starts to roll and flip, according to the Mayo Clinic. At 17 weeks, it is able to hear.

About 1 in 47 abortions (close to 1,800) was performed at 20 or more weeks of pregnancy. At 20 to 21 weeks, the baby regularly sleeps and wakes, and starts to suck its thumbs.

Regarding third-trimester abortions—those after 27 weeks of pregnancy—no officials statistics seem to exist, but various partial records collected by anti-abortion researcher Robert Johnston suggest several hundred may occur across the country every year.

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