Steck abortion services bill for active-duty New Yorkers response to U.S. House defense spending legislation

FILE — Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, speaks to media after a press conference at Palace Arts Center in Albany on Feb. 17.

FILE — Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, speaks to media after a press conference at Palace Arts Center in Albany on Feb. 17.

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In response to the defense spending bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, state Assemblyman Phil Steck is introducing legislation that aims to protect abortion services for New York service members.

The Republican-led House on Friday passed a defense bill last Friday, 219-210, that included an amendment that would rescind the Pentagon’s program for reimbursing service members who must travel to obtain reproductive health care and would also end diversity initiatives in the military. The bill as currently written is expected to be dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-led U.S. Senate.

Abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood have come out against the bill. Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts’ Emma Corbett said the organization will continue to work with members of the state Legislature to fortify abortion access.

Anti-abortion House members have passed dangerous amendments attacking abortion access and gender-affirming care that undermine the rights and freedoms of those serving our nation’s military. Playing politics with the lives and families of any person, including service members, is completely unacceptable,” Corbett said in a statement. “As we strive to build a future that ensures every person can access the health care they need, it is imperative that our elected leaders stand up for these fundamental rights and explore all options to safeguard and expand access.”

The legislation introduced by Steck, D-Colonie, would expand Medicaid coverage to include abortion services and travel-related expenses for New Yorkers serving in the military and their family members. If passed, the bill aims to ensure active-duty New Yorkers serving in a country or state that has restricted abortion services would still have access to them. 

Steck said he introduced the bill after he was contacted by a service member that had been called to active duty and brought this issue to his attention.

“The family members of people in the armed forces often remain in the state,” Steck explained. “The problem here is insurance coverage, because if the federal government denies payment for these services under the service member’s insurance plan, they wouldn’t be able to access those services due to not being able to pay for them.”

Given the overturn of Roe v. Wade and recent legislative actions by about 20 states to rollback reproductive health care services, New York has already passed several laws to protect access for New Yorkers and those from out-of-state who travel to seek health care. 

New York already has some of the strongest abortion protection laws in the nation and codified into law the right to an abortion in 2019. Last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul signed into law a bill that protects from litigation New York-based doctors that prescribe abortion pills for out-of-state patients.

President Joe Biden on June 23 issued an executive order aimed at protecting access to contraception, which included instructions for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Office of Personnel Management to consider actions that will strengthen birth control access for veterans and federal employees.

“The point is they can come to New York to get those services and, if they have families that live in New York, they can still get those services in New York,” Steck said. “So, the real issue is making it possible for them to get those services without incurring tremendous financial hardship.”

The state Legislature adjourned for the year in June and is scheduled to return in January.

By Ashley Hupfl

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