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Advocates in New York are working to further secure abortion access


A Supreme Court ruling on Roe vs. Wade could throw abortion rules to the states. Each state legislature would make its own judgment about when, if ever, to allow abortion. That debate is complicated because so many people cross state lines. Some states talk of abortion restrictions that would reach into other states. Advocates in New York are working to protect people who legally provide abortion to residents from out of state. Caroline Lewis reports.

CAROLINE LEWIS, BYLINE: Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens has long welcomed patients traveling from other states for abortions. The clinic first opened in 1971, when abortion was legal in New York, but not nationwide. Today, the center partners with groups that provide assistance to people coming from parts of the country where abortion is harder to access.

MERLE HOFFMAN: There's a kind of overground railroad - you see? - with safe places that patients can go.

LEWIS: That's Choices founder and CEO Merle Hoffman. She said, if Roe is overturned, she expects to see a lot more patients coming from out of state. In preparation for more interstate travel for abortion, advocates are calling for people to donate to abortion funds. Some New York legislators are also calling for the state health department to set aside money for abortion providers and nonprofits to scale up their operations. But those who want to increase abortion access aren't the only ones preparing for a future in which more people travel out of state.

DAVID COHEN: Trying to reach across state lines is going to be the new frontier.

LEWIS: David Cohen is a professor at Drexel University's law school who specializes in gender and the Constitution.

COHEN: That will allow anti-abortion states to have an even broader reach for their policy, and we've seen some states talk about this already.

LEWIS: Missouri lawmakers have been trying to pass a measure that would make it possible to sue anyone, anywhere, who performs an abortion for a Missouri resident. It would also target people who send abortion pills into the state and those who, quote, "aid or abet someone from Missouri in ending their pregnancy." In response, New York lawmakers have introduced a trio of bills to protect abortion providers from out-of-state legal action. The measures would protect them from being extradited to other states, block New York courts from sending subpoenas for out-of-state cases and prevent law enforcement from cooperating with investigations by out-of-state agencies. Connecticut has passed similar measures, and other states have legislation in the works. Missouri Representative Mary Elizabeth Coleman is one of the lawmakers pushing the proposal. She says her main goal is not to target abortion providers in other states, but rather Missouri residents who are facilitating out-of-state abortions.

MARY ELIZABETH COLEMAN: So, for example, if a Missouri resident calls a Missouri clinic that isn't doing abortions, and her abortion is scheduled out of state, well then that clinic is aiding and abetting violating the laws of Missouri.

LEWIS: Right now, abortion is still legal. But if the Supreme Court does overturn Roe vs. Wade, the language in Coleman's proposal could cast a wide net. It's unclear whether a lawsuit filed in Missouri against an abortion provider in New York would hold up in court, but fighting off costly lawsuits could create a burden for groups like New York's Brigid Alliance, which helps people travel for abortions.

ODILE SCHALIT: Oh, yeah. This is the thing that keeps me up at night. Like, there is very real reason to be concerned about this.

LEWIS: Odile Schalit is Brigid Alliance's executive director. She says, even after speaking with lawyers, it's hard to gauge exactly what kind of risk her organization faces. But for Hoffman of Choices Women's Medical Center, these kinds of attacks are nothing new.

HOFFMAN: I've been walking around with a target on my back for decades, you know (laughter)?

LEWIS: In New York, there are a lot of other priorities competing for attention before the state's legislative session ends on June 2, but legislators say they will try to get these legal protections through. For NPR News, I'm Caroline Lewis in New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Caroline Lewis

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