WHARR’s 2019 LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
WHARR promotes gender equity, women's health, and reproductive rights. We take action for positive legislative change; work to elect progressive, pro-choice candidates; raise awareness about threats to reproductive justice; and fight against regressive policies that harm women’s health and well-being. As a grassroots group based in Brooklyn, NY, we hold monthly meetings and other events to share our work with our community. We are a working group of GetOrganizedBK, and we welcome new members committed to our cause. Below is an overview of our legislative agenda and areas of focus for 2019.
2019 LEGISLATIVE AGENDA
WHARR believes that gender and racial inequity should be abolished, all who need reproductive and maternal healthcare in New York State should have easy and affordable access to it, and that the protection of abortion rights is necessary to achieve true gender equity. To that end, among other activities, we will push Governor Cuomo, our State Senators, and our Assembly Members to pass the following legislation in the 2019 legislative session.
The Reproductive Health Act & Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act
From our inception, the passage of the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act has been a top priority for WHARR, and we are encouraged by these being two of the first bills to be signed into law this session. We urge immediate, robust implementation and education on these bills.
In light of the voting debacle that was New York’s last general midterm election, and the appetite for voter suppression by Republicans nationwide, we are pleased that voting reform legislation including early voting and consolidating federal and state primaries. We urge our lawmakers and Governor Cuomo to ensure that adequate funding is included in the budget to implement these laws. Additional laws that would ensure all New Yorkers can vote include: automatic voter registration, restoring voting rights for those on parole, same day voter registration, and a later change-of-party deadline.
Update: This year’s budget includes funding for several voting reforms: online voter registration, operational costs for early voting (and the electronic poll books needed to make early voting possible), and uniform polling hours across the state during primaries.
Maternal Mortality Review Board
The United States has the worst maternal mortality rate of any high income country, and this rate is rising. New York State is ranked 30th in the nation for maternal mortalities. Black women are 4 times as likely to die on the state level, and 8 times more likely to die in New York City. New York must install a maternal mortality review board that is consistent with CDC and WHO recommendations. The board should protect provider confidentiality, so that discussions are honest and comprehensive, yielding accurate and complete reports. This board will then be able to advise hospitals, health providers, and the government on how to address this urgent problem.
Update: On March 20, both the Senate and the Assembly unanimously passed legislation to establish a New York State Maternal Mortality Review Board and a Maternal Mortality and Morbidity Advisory Council. The board’s responsibilities will include conducting comprehensive and confidential reviews of maternal deaths, as well as developing recommendations for reducing maternal deaths. The advisory council is tasked with reviewing the boards' findings and establishing best practices based on their recommendations. As part of this year’s budget, the Governor and Legislature also allocated $8 million over two years for initiatives related to maternal mortality, including funding the board and council, as well as training to reduce implicit racial bias in health care institutions statewide.
Governor Cuomo has mandated that every school serving students grades 6-12 must provide menstrual hygiene products in all bathrooms, and the State legislature has passed a law mandating that products be provided in state jails and prisons. While these are important steps, there is more to be done to to break down the socioeconomic barriers to equality and dignity that affect the most vulnerable women and girls of New York. We call for legislation to be passed mandating free menstrual hygiene products in all shelters and in charter schools, just as there is toilet paper.
Domestic Violence & Gun Violence
Domestic or intimate partner violence is all too common; the State of New York has not done enough to protect survivors. We call for the passage of the Domestic Violence Survivors Justice Act, which would reform the way our criminal justice system treats those who act to protect themselves from violence by their abusers. Additionally, we support the Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO), which would authorize families and law enforcement to seek court-issued orders restricting access to guns for individuals who are likely to harm themselves or others.
Update: On January 30, a package of gun violence protection bills—including Extreme Risk Order Protection (the Red Flag Bill, S2451/A2689), safe storage, criminal background check extension and rapid fire ban—passed both the Senate and the Assembly.
In addition, we support Governor Cuomo’s proposal in his 2019 Women’s Justice Agenda to advance legislation ensuring victims of domestic violence no longer have to apply for public assistance when seeking shelter or shoulder any cost for staying in a domestic violence shelter.
Safe & Dignified Access to Abortion Clinics
Women seeking abortion care should never have to fear any form of shame or assault, verbal or otherwise. Laws like the NYC Clinic Access Law, mandating a buffer safe zone, should be enforced and expanded statewide to protect women trying to access time-sensitive and necessary care.
Holding Crisis Pregnancy Centers Accountable
Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) are unlicensed, anti-choice clinics that target unsuspecting, pregnant people and attempt to deter them from getting an abortion. They are notorious for deceptive practices, including posing as licensed medical-providers, lying to women about the supposed “health risks” of abortion, and misleading them about the age of the fetus so that they may wait until it is too late to get an abortion. We urge the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs to fully enforce New York City’s Local Law 17, which mandates that CPCs must disclose that they do not have a medical provider on staff. In addition, we call for a state-wide study of CPCs and an associated publicly-available report with findings, conclusions and recommendations to the governor and legislature.
Comprehensive Sex Ed
All K-12 students in New York State should have access to comprehensive sexuality education led by teachers who are adequately trained and knowledgeable. This curriculum should include anatomy, physiology, families, personal safety, healthy relationships and consent, pregnancy and birth, sexually transmitted diseases including HIV, contraceptives, sexual orientation, pregnancy options including terminating pregnancy, and media literacy. We urge immediate passage of A.6512 / S.4844 to mandate CSE statewide.
Lack of CSE is also an issue at the city level. In August 2011 the NYC Department of Education announced that middle and high schools are required to provide CSE, but in 2016 and 2017, City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the Sexuality Education Alliance of NYC (SEANYC) each assessed how well CSE was being implemented and found that most schools were not meeting the bare minimum requirements, including how to put on a condom and consent. Of students surveyed, 35% reported they had not had any sexuality education at all. We call for robust compliance with the requirement for CSE across all NYC schools.
LGBTQ people, especially trans people, are particularly vulnerable to acts of violence. According to the Human Rights Watch, in 2017 there were 29 reported cases of fatal violence against transgender people nationwide, and four of those cases took place in the state of New York. We are pleased with the passage of GENDA and the banning of so-called “conversion therapy.” In addition, WHARR advocates the passage of SB 50, banning the “gay panic defense.” This defense is often used by defendants accused of violence against LGBTQ people and has been a successful tactic, often reducing their sentences. The American Bar Association supports this ban, as there is no basis in medicine or psychology for the claim that so-called “gay panic” can lead to diminished capacity or insanity.
Co-signers on WHARR’s original 2019 legislative agenda:
Downtown Women for Change
Healthcare Equity Action League of New York
National Council of Jewish Women New York
Women’s Information Network of New York City
WHARR’S ADDITIONAL AREAS OF FOCUS FOR 2019
Promoting robust implementation of menstrual equity laws in NYC
Supporting the NYC Won't Hyde campaign to create abortion access funds in New York City
Ensuring equal pay
Promoting criminal and housing justice as related to women’s health
Supporting progressive federal legislation and bills related to women’s health in other states
Supporting sex work decriminalization
Advocating for just and respectful treatment of sex crime victims.