New York Attorney General Letitia James and state lawmakers introduced legislation Monday to create a new program within the state Health Department to increase funding to abortion providers and nonprofit organizations as the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance.

James, a Democrat, announced the legislation at her office in Manhattan on Monday morning to create the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program to bolster state support for abortion profiders and nonprofits to increase access to abortion care with sponsors Sen. Cordell Cleare, a Democrat from Harlem, and Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas, a Democrat from Queens.

"We know what happens when women are unable to control their own bodies and make their own choices and we will not go back to those dark times," James said. “New York must lead the fight to keep abortion safe and accessible for all who seek it and this legislation spearheaded by State Senator Cleare and Assemblymember González-Rojas will ensure that low-income New Yorkers and people from states that ban abortion have access to the care they need and deserve. No matter what happens in the weeks to come, New York will always fight to protect our right to make decisions about our own bodies and expand access to this critical and lifesaving care.”

The Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program would operate under the state Health Department to fund abortion providers and nonprofits to increase access to abortion services as the need for the state's services is expected to increase as more than half of U.S. states move to ban or limit abortion services after a draft Supreme Court opinion released last week shows the court intends to strike down the landmark decision.

 The program would provide funding for uncompensated abortion care regardless of a patient's health insurance status or ability to pay for care.

“One of our greatest fears in generations is coming true: The Supreme Court will overrule Roe v. Wade,” González-Rojas said. “Millions who live in states hostile to abortion access will look to other states for that care. New York must be a leader at this moment and prepare for the impending need. That is why I’m proud to have introduced legislation to create the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Fund, which will help address this need by providing funding to providers and addressing the practical needs of patients. I am honored to stand with our Attorney General Letitia James in calling on all of my elected colleagues to support it, for it to pass, and be signed into law. Most importantly, I’m asking that we invest the necessary resources to support our sisters and siblings across this nation. Our communities need real action by our state and this fund will ensure that New York is a safe access state when the Supreme Court has failed us.”

Nonprofit organizations will receive grants to help people from out-of-state seeking abortion services travel to New York. The legislation prohibits the state from tracking patients' personal information through providers that receive funds from the public program to protect patient privacy.

The programs would help provide funding for uncompensated and uninsured abortion care and low-income women across New York and other states as 26 states stand ready to limit or ban abortion procedures if Roe v. Wade is struck down. Twenty-two states have laws or constitutional amendments to ban abortion if the 1973 Supreme Court ruling to decriminalize abortion is overturned, and four others will likely ban abortion without the existing federal protections. More than 40 million women of reproductive age live within those 26 U.S. states.

Out-of-staters seeking abortion services in New York is expected to skyrocket on top of increasing requests for procedures since before the coronavirus pandemic. In 2019, 9%, or 7,000 of the abortion procedures performed in New York were for people from other states, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. That number is estimated to increase four-and-a-half times to 32,000 procedures a year from people traveling to New York for abortion services from Ohio and Pennsylvania alone, according to the Guttmacher Institute. 

“Health care is a fundamental human right and abortion is an essential aspect of women’s health care,” Sen. Cleare said. “I am proud to sponsor new legislation — The Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program — that will ensure that in New York we proactively protect, support and fund all aspects of women’s health care including comprehensive abortion services. We will not be subject to the arbitrary whims of a politicized Supreme Court nor can we fund health care services via private fundraising — our women deserve better, and justice and equity demand it.”

The National Institute for Reproductive Health, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, Sen. Liz Krueger and Assemblymembers Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, Stefani Zinerman, Phara Souffrant Forrest, Yuh-Line Niou and Yudelka Tapia and various New York City councilmembers, the New York Civil Liberties Union and others also support the measures to embolden abortion access in New York.

“There has never been a more important moment for New York to be a leader in strengthening access to abortion,” the New York Abortion Access Fund Board of Directors said in a statement. “For over twenty years, the New York Abortion Access Fund has supported anyone living in or traveling to New York who needs an abortion and can't afford it. As abortion funders, we know that the people most impacted by cruel decisions like the Supreme Court’s draft ruling are people already facing barriers to abortion access. We believe no one should be denied access to an abortion because of where they live or how much money they make and strongly support the establishment of the Reproductive Freedom and Equity Program.”