ALBANY, N.Y.  -- New York Democrats stood firmly in support of the state's new, broader abortion law Wednesday in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s scathing criticism that it is an assault on the right to life.

In his State of the Union address to Congress Tuesday evening, Trump urged passage of legislation that bans late-term abortion of fetuses that “can feel pain in the mother’s womb.”

The New York law allows for women after 24 weeks of pregnancy to get an abortion if “there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”

The vast majority of abortions occur during the first 15 weeks of gestation, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Roe vs. Wade) legalizing abortion said it should be allowed until the time a fetus could survive outside the womb.

Trump, a Republican, sparked a political tussle with Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, by attacking the New York's Reproductive Health Act and scolding state lawmakers who the president said "cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother's womb moments before birth."

"These are living, feeling, beautiful babies who will never get the chance to share their love and dreams with the world," he said in his nationally-televised remarks.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who announced last month that she is running for President, accused the president of using abortion as a "political wedge" and "telling women they can't make their own health decisions in consultation with their doctor."

Cuomo put it more bluntly. He denounced Trump for spreading "lies" and insisting the president wants to roll back the abortion protections of Roe vs. Wade across the country.

In an essay published by the New York Times, Cuomo defended the New York law, saying: “Activists on the far right continue to mislead with the ridiculous claim that the act will allow abortions up to a minute before birth.”

Critics of the law, including the Catholic Conference of New York State, have argued it is too vague because it allows too much subjectivity by doctors when authorizing a late term abortion and does not define what amounts to a health threat.

The law ensures that abortion in New York is regulated under public health law, removing any mention of the procedure in criminal law, including criminal penalties. It also allows abortions to be provided by licensed midwives, physicians assistants and licensed nurse practitioners as well as doctors. 

Supporters contend these provisions will improve access to abortion for women in rural regions where physicians may be in short supply. Opponents of the law argue some women could be endangered by having non-doctors terminate pregnancies.

John Flanagan, the Republican leader of the State Senate, criticized a change in the law wiping out certain record-keeping requirements for medical abortions. He called the change extreme and “dangerous for women’s health.”

But an advocate for the law, Donna Lieberman, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that the law "knocks down medically-unnecessary restrictions to care."

She expressed confidence that supporters of the New York legislation will weather the attacks from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

"Since seven in 10 Americans support Roe v. Wade, that means Americans are with New York," Lieberman said.

Joe Mahoney is the CNHI state reporter for New York. Reach him at

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