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New York City will spend $250,000 to help poor women who travel from other states to obtain abortions here, inserting itself into the increasingly contentious debate over access to the procedure.
While the amount of money is relatively small, the allocation is a symbolic if provocative move as more conservative states take steps to all but ban abortion.
The money will go to the New York Abortion Access Fund, according to City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, a Democrat from Manhattan, and Jennifer Fermino, a spokeswoman for the Council speaker, Corey Johnson. Abortion rights activists believe that this is the first time that a city will allocate money specifically for abortions.
City officials said the contribution, which would be included in the budget being negotiated between the Council and the mayor’s office, would allow about 500 women to terminate their pregnancies.
The city provides funding to the nonprofit Planned Parenthood, but that organization’s affiliates charge patients on a sliding scale and offer a range of services. The city’s public hospital system also performs abortions, but women face a bureaucracy of requests for proof of income, private insurance and Medicaid.
The abortion access fund provides payment to clinics on behalf of women who might not be able to pay for abortions, but are not covered by insurance or Medicaid. Roughly a third of the fund goes to women who come to New York for abortions.
“There haven’t been that many city and state public officials to say we should publicly fund abortions. It’s a big statement,” said Aziza Ahmed, a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston. “This is a culture war to some degree.”
Nine states have passed laws to restrict abortion this year, prompting legal fights that abortion opponents hope will lead the Supreme Court, reconstituted under President Trump, to reconsider the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.
In response, several states have passed or are considering forms of legislation that would strengthen abortion rights.
Earlier this week, the governor of Maine, Janet Mills, signed legislation that allows nurses and physician assistants to perform abortions, expanding services beyond those performed by doctors.
In January, on the 46th anniversary of the Roe decision, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed the Reproductive Health Act that also allows medical professionals, in addition to doctors, to perform abortions. The New York bill also allows a woman to have an abortion after 24 weeks when her health or life is in danger, or the fetus is not viable.
Before the Roe decision, New York was a haven for women seeking abortions from out of state because of its more liberal laws. Ms. Rivera, a chairwoman of the Council’s Women’s Caucus, said the culture-war climate made it necessary for New York to reassert itself as “the beacon for the rest of the country.”
“We heard the news on the abortion bans across the country,” Ms. Rivera said. “Many of us in New York felt helpless. We wanted to do more.”
Officials with the New York Abortion Access Fund had initially sought funding through the city’s health department; when those efforts fell short, the fund began working with the National Institute for Reproductive Health to persuade the city.
The institute felt the time was ripe for New York City to take the lead on explicitly providing funding for abortions, said Andrea Miller, the group’s president, and the abortion access fund seemed perfectly suited as a recipient.
The fund only provides women with financial assistance for abortions, unlike a public hospital or Planned Parenthood, which has several sexual and reproductive health services.
Women seeking help can call the group, which then has a volunteer respond within 24 hours. After an assessment, the organization pays abortion bills directly to clinics. The organization also pays transportation costs in some cases; in 2018, the fund paid for abortions for nearly 600 women.
For the most part, the effort to get city funding for the organization, called Fund Abortion N.Y.C., was under the radar.
Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, which researches abortion, said advocates were afraid to bring too much attention to the campaign for fear of derailing it. “This is something that has been done kind of quietly,” she said. “I’ve been sitting with crossed fingers and toes.”