Tuesday, November 3, 2009

NY increases penalties for violence against reproductive health care workers

Good news out of New York state today: Gov. David Paterson has signed into law "a bill to protect women’s access to reproductive health care facilities." The bill "creates new class E and C felonies for causing physical or serious physical injury to 'someone obtaining, providing, or assisting someone to obtain or provide reproductive health services.' It also attempts to effectively punish repeat offenders."

From the press release:
Governor David A. Paterson today signed five bills into law including a bill to protect women’s access to reproductive health care facilities and a bill to ensure voters’ access to their correct polling places. Additionally, the Governor vetoed two bills that would have cost taxpayers $18.6 million over the next two years.

The signed bills include A.8924/S.6112, which provides enhanced penalties if a person causes physical injury to someone seeking to provide, obtain or assist in reproductive health care services. The bill was written shortly after the murder of Dr. George Tiller in Kansas, a tragedy that many health workers believe has emboldened those who engage threatening behavior and violent rhetoric at reproductive health care clinics.

“Given the history of violence committed against patients and employees of women’s health clinics across the United States and in New York State, establishment of these new offenses is appropriate,” Governor Paterson said. “I will continue to do everything in my power to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to quality, affordable health care in a safe environment.”
In the text of the bill is this "justification" for the bill:
JUSTIFICATION: Doctors and other staff who provide reproductive planning services have been targeted by those who would seek to stop them
from providing these constitutionally protected services. Doctor George
Tiller was recently murdered in Kansas by an assailant who disagreed
with his choice to provide family planning services and abortions in his
medical practice. Sadly this was not the first time that Doctor Tiller
had been attacked. He had in the past been shot several times because of
his medical practice.

Dr. Tiller's murder is not an isolated incident. In 1998, here in New
York, Dr. Barnett Slepian was targeted and murdered by a criminal who
gunned down Dr. Slepian because he provided legal abortion services. He
left behind a wife and family. Another Doctor John Britton and clinic
escort were both killed in 1994. Dr. David Gunn was killed in 1993
during a protest. Robert Sanderson, a security guard at a clinic was
also killed in 1998. Two receptionists at clinics were killed in 1994.
The list of casualties goes on. A total list of all incidents targeting
practitioners and health clinics is more than four pages long.

In order to provide for sustained access to legal services it is impor-
tant that state law provide for the protection of doctors and other
support staff. This bill, should it be passed, will provide just that.
Kudos to New York and the governor.

Lynne Slepian, widow of Dr. Barnett Slepian, spoke at the press conference: “This is the crux of the whole issue. It’s going to set a precedent for the whole country, we hope. The issue [of clinic violence] is not going to go away. The issue will never go away. Hopefully, strong penalties will decrease the violence.”

I don't know how often stronger penalties deter a specific kind of violence like this, but trying is better than nothing.

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