SOMERS, N.Y. - Laws pertaining to abortion are not things over which local municipalities such as Somers have direct influence or power, the town’s supervisor said last week.
Rick Morrissey expressed that opinion in reaction to a request made by a group of Westchester and Putnam residents seeking the town’s support for the repeal of the state’s new Reproductive Rights Act (RHA).
The law took effect in January and allows the procedure before the end of, or up to, 24 weeks of pregnancy if the woman’s life or health is in jeopardy or if the fetus could not survive outside the womb. It also eliminates criminal charges for harming a fetus and expands the type of health care providers who can perform abortion.
Third-trimester abortions, after 24 weeks, would be allowed under very narrow circumstances.
Statistics from the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) say that late-term abortions are very rare. Only 1.3 percent happen after the 21st week of pregnancy.
The law was signed on the 46th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision supporting abortion rights.
Roe v. Wade says states are allowed to prohibit or regulate the procedure after 24-28 weeks, the accepted point of fetal viability. But they must make exceptions when the mother’s life or health are in jeopardy.
Even if Roe v. Wade is ever struck down, it still will have been codified by the RHA, legal experts say.
The Putnam County Legislature and the Town of Carmel both recently passed resolutions opposing the RHA.
Earlier this month, the group used the public comment section of the board’s work session to make impassioned pleas for the rights of the unborn and to question the definition of a woman’s “health.”
Somers resident Gerald A. Borreggine told the board that he was not a politician or activist, “just a person who refuses to stand by while the state Legislature and the governor declare that unborn babies can be aborted up to the day of birth.”
Paraphrasing a famous quote from Edmund Burke, the 18th-century Irish statesman and philosopher, Borreggine urged the board to take a public stand, saying: “All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.”
At the April 4 work session, Tom Garrity noted, and fellow councilmen appeared to agree, that more information was needed before the town could even consider constructing a resolution taking a stand for, or against, the state law.
After the board finished acting on regular agenda items on April 11, Morrissey, reading from a statement, thanked “concerned citizens” for bringing the RHA issue to the board’s attention.
However, he said, “it’s apparent that this is really a legislative matter” and does “not fall under the purview of local government in New York.”
Morrissey, who himself had been perplexed by what he called “celebrations” after the act’s passage, said it was understandable that “many people have strong feelings on the subject.”
The “celebrations” referenced by speakers on April 4 included the lighting in pink of the spire of One World Trade Center and other landmarks.
Morrissey said he appreciated the “willingness of the residents who took the time to come in and express views and opinions” to the board.
However, the supervisor explained, he felt it was “in the best interest of our community to have a town government that is committed to focusing on public policies and legislative matters that impact our local government operations.”
“So I did want to make that comment in public,” he said.
The meeting was concluded without comment from other board members.
It should be noted that the group made its request during a public comment session, and not as part of a public hearing. There were no pro-RHA folks at either the board’s April 4 work session or its April 11 regular meeting.