The Women’s Rights Coalition of New York Law School

By Elizabeth K. Friedrich

In spring 2017, a group of New York Law School students called the Women’s Rights Coalition (“WRC”) held an event on reproductive health care for women in New York State. The event discussed issues women face when accessing reproductive health care. Some topics included: current regulations and legislation, defunding of Planned Parenthood, New York City hospital closures and mergers, and the barriers low-income communities face to accessing reproductive health care. More broadly, the panel discussed how law students can advocate for reproductive freedom.

The panel included speakers from Planned Parenthood of NYC, Merger Watch/Raising Women’s Voices, and the National Institute for Reproductive Health. During this panel discussion, the presenters also discussed new regulations currently under review by the NYS Department of Financial Services: Sections 52.1(p), 52.2(y), (z), (aa) and 52.16(o) to Title 11 New York Codes, Rules, & Regulations (NYCRR). These rules were drafted to clarify the existing requirements for coverage for medically necessary abortions and to require that insurance policies that cover hospital, surgical, or medical expenses also cover medically necessary abortions without copayments, coinsurance, or first meeting annual deductibles.

When Governor Cuomo introduced these rules, the NYS Department of Financial Services asked the public at large to comment. The NYLS WRC participated in the public comment process and submitted a comment letter on March 27th, 2017 with a number of other New York-based law schools. The NYLS WRC choose to comment on the rules to make them stronger and more effective.

The NYLS WRC urged the New York State Senate to consider the distinctions between the obligations of the Federal Government and the obligations of the individual States, and to prioritize the health and welfare of women over the preferences of their employers. The NYLS WRC believes that an employer should not be able to determine whether insurance will cover abortion services. The broad exemption for “Qualifying Religious Organizations” would perpetuate sex discrimination in health benefits. Furthermore, it would blur the line between church and state.

Additionally, the rules carve out an exemption for “Closely Held For-Profit Entities.” This allows small businesses to be exempt from the State regulations, which would permit these companies to restrict their employees’ access to abortion services, despite the medical necessity of those services. The NYLS WRC argued that the proposed regulation grants this exception regardless of the employer’s religious beliefs and, as written, seems to give the employer complete discretion on whether to provide this coverage. Employees of small businesses are far less likely to be able to afford the costs inherent in these procedures out-of-pocket than employees of larger corporations. This means a small business is effectively free to deny medical necessities to its employees, which would harm female employees of small businesses across New York State.

The NYLS WRC believes that these regulations are so important because they require New York insurers to cover abortion care with no copay. This is a groundbreaking move and has the power to make New York’s insurance regulations as strong and protective of abortion access as possible, which is critical in light of the current administration’s hostility towards abortion access and coverage.

Please see a link to the public comment letter attached. The NYLS WRC is still awaiting the results of these proposed regulations.