The Diagnosis Is In
A New York doctor says Cuomo’s abortion push is harmful to women.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s recently released Women’s Equality Act is a “radical deregulation of abortion in New York,” says Dr. Elissa Sanchez-Speach. A family physician in Rochester, N.Y., she opposes the governor’s push, calling the abortion component to his legislation both “unnecessary for and harmful to women’s health.” Dr. Sanchez-Speach talks about her opposition to the legislation with National Review Online’s Kathryn Jean Lopez.

KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: How could you oppose a “Women’s Equality Act”? Aren’t you in favor of equality for women?

DR. ELISSA SANCHEZ-SPEACH: The Women’s Equality Act seems to be an effort to slip a radical abortion-expansion proposal through New York’s state legislature by folding it in with several other proposals genuinely designed to benefit women. It’s a shame that the governor will ruin an otherwise largely commendable piece of legislation by the inclusion of an abortion plan that will harm, not help, women.


LOPEZ: What’s your objection to making sure a woman has access to late-term abortion in a case where her health is in danger?

SANCHEZ-SPEACH: First of all, we have to keep in mind that in New York it is already legal to perform a late-term abortion if the mother’s life is in danger. Governor Cuomo would like to expand this situation to legalize late-term abortions for preservation of the mother’s “health” — a term that is not clearly defined by the bill. It is possible that in addition to physical-health reasons, abortions will also be permitted for mental, emotional, or social reasons. In other words, abortions could be permitted in any distressing situation whatsoever.

That said, many obstetricians believe that at a later stage of pregnancy when the baby can live outside the uterus, it is safer for the mother’s health to deliver the baby expeditiously by C-section in a controlled environment than to perform a late-term abortion, which is more time-consuming and has markedly increased risks of medical complications than early abortion. By providing late-term abortions for such broad reasons, we would seem to be violating a basic tenet of medicine: “Primum non nocere,” or “First, do no harm.”

LOPEZ: Did you follow the story of the woman in El Salvador who couldn’t procure an abortion and had to give birth to a baby without a brain? Following the coverage, you can see why people can’t bring themselves to be against abortion in all instances, can’t you? 

SANCHEZ-SPEACH: Sadly, people find it easier to dispose of tragic situations like these by automatically recommending abortion, instead of providing the collective support that the woman needs to bear a difficult pregnancy, to raise a handicapped child, and even to deal with the subsequent loss of a child. Governor Cuomo could help women more by taking steps to ensure that this kind of support — not just the lonely act of abortion — is available to women.

LOPEZ: In a piece on Public Discourse, you ask: “Why . . . do we need a law to remove any obstacles to a procedure that would end a child’s life needlessly and risk the mother’s? Especially when it’s possible to save the lives of both mother and baby while presenting fewer risks to the mother’s long-term and physical health?” To which Governor Cuomo might respond: because “it’s her body, it’s her choice,” as he has said in the past. And hasn’t that been the law of the land for the past 40 years? The governor says he is just getting the state with the times.

SANCHEZ-SPEACH: “My body, my choice” rhetoric is not rooted in reality. Although we all have a certain amount of autonomy granted us, our choices are surely limited when it comes to harming another life. I could not kill my two-year-old, for example, if I felt that her presence was impeding my career or physical fitness. And what about the body of the late-term infant — fully formed and ready to live in the outside world — what about her choice? To embrace the “my body, my choice” mentality is to embrace the tyranny of the powerful over the weak and vulnerable.

The governor is misleading us when he claims that the Women’s Equality Act just updates state law to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade; even post-Roe, states have the right to provide commonsense restrictions on abortion that voters desire and that this law would not allow. The abortion-expansion plan in the Women’s Equality Act is nothing more than a radical deregulation of abortion in New York.