Abortion is morally and legally complex. Inflamed rhetoric won’t get us closer to a solution.

We often write editor’s notes at the foot of letters to provide background or context. The note we were composing for Jennifer Richard’s letter became so long and complex we decided to write this editorial.

First and foremost, we’re pleased Ms. Richard wrote. We like having a variety of opinions on our letters pages. Civil discourse with varied views is how we can learn from each other and move forward as a society.

In her letter, Ms. Richard writes, “Governor Cuomo once said if you are pro-life, you are not welcome to live in the State of New York. He is a man of his word.”

We know the very remark to which she refers, often referenced by conservatives. In January 2014, during a radio interview, the governor talked about a schism within the Republican Party as a reason for political gridlock: “It’s more about extreme Republicans versus moderate Republicans,” he said. “You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate. Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves.

“Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because, if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are. If they’re moderate Republicans like in the Senate right now, who control the Senate — moderate Republicans have a place in their state. George Pataki was governor of this state as a moderate Republican; but not what you’re hearing from them on the far right.”

We believe extreme conservatives — just like extreme liberals and everyone in between — have a place in New York. An elected leader shouldn’t tell constituents to leave because they are anti-gay or pro-assault weapon, or right-to-life.

Rather, if we speak to and about each other respectfully, we may find common ground.

The heart of Ms. Richard’s letter is to condemn the recently passed and signed Reproductive Health Act. Ms. Richard writes of how her 8-year-old daughter wept in the church pew next to her on hearing the pastor say that, under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act, “a baby only moments from birth can be killed and those babies lucky enough to survive can be left to die.”

We, as a newspaper, first delved into the act when we were writing issues-based election interviews last fall. Not surprisingly, the Democratic candidates for the State Assembly and Senate supported it and the Republican candidates opposed it.

The rhetoric was ratcheted up further by our president in his State of the Union address this year, saying New York’s legislators had “cheered with delight upon the passage of legislation that would allow a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments before birth.”

During our candidate interviews, we came to realize the truth was not so simple as either side would have it. Some proponents of the act said it was simply codifying the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade.

Actually, the act adds a third circumstance and it also expands the health-care providers that can perform the procedure in the state — such as physicians’ assistants and nurse practitioners if they are certified and licensed by the state and are acting within their legal scope of practice.

Both of these are measures not dealt with in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. Like New York’s Reproductive Health Act, Roe v. Wade guarantees these first two circumstances, now codified in New York’s law:

— The abortion occurs before the end of the 24th week of the pregnancy; this is at the point when medical science deems a fetus can survive on its own outside the womb; or

— The abortion is “necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”

New York’s act adds a third circumstance:

— There is an absence of “fetal viability,” or the ability for the fetus to survive outside the womb.

This is meant to cover instances when a woman learns late in her pregnancy that a fetus won’t live on its own. This is what Ms. Richard’s pastor spoke of and what made her daughter weep.

An account by Jia Tolentino we read in The New Yorker in January enlightened us. The words made us weep. We wept for a mother who loved her baby so much she left the state where she lived, New York, to keep her baby from suffering.

Ms. Tolentino told the story of Erika Christensen and her husband who “desperately” wanted a child but were told, when she was 31 weeks pregnant, that the child would not survive outside of her womb. If the child were born, he would suffer and he would not live long. Ms. Christensen wanted to minimize her baby’s suffering to what extent she could.

This was in 2016 and, under New York’s law, it would have been a crime for Ms. Christensen to abort her baby in her home state. Her medical team arranged for her to travel to Colorado where abortion is regulated like any other medical procedure, Jia Tolentino wrote.

“With help from her mother, she scrounged up more than ten thousand dollars to pay for the procedure and the trip. In Boulder, a doctor named Warren Hern administered an injection that stopped her baby’s heart but prevented her from bleeding and going into labor,” writes Ms. Tolentino. “Afterward, while waiting for her flight, she could not help feeling as if what she’d done was shameful and illegal. She flew back to New York and had a physically excruciating stillbirth at a hospital. … Her baseline experience of pregnancy had been punishing to begin with, and New York law had made it much worse.”

This is the sort of situation that the Reproductive Health Act would prevent. The act takes abortion out of the state’s criminal code and puts it in the public health law. The former penal code had laid out various criminal penalties.

With all the pain someone like Ms. Christenson had to endure, just trying to save her baby from suffering, why should she have to endure the expense and rigors of flying to another state and further feeling shame? Why should she be considered a criminal?

Only 1.3 percent of abortions are performed at 21 weeks or later, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rarity indicates to us it is not a decision made easily.

Ms. Tolentino’s essay gets to the heart of the debate on abortion — with proponents seeing it as a medical procedure and objectors seeing it as a crime or a moral failing.

“The decision to restrict abortion in the legal code is based on the idea that there are people who want to kill babies, and the law exists to prevent killing,” she writes. “The conviction that we should instead regulate abortion medically is rooted in the proposition that late-term abortions happen not because women and doctors want to kill babies but because circumstances conspire to make late-term abortions necessary, and that the women who are in these situations, and their doctors, are the people best suited to decide when those circumstances have arrived.”

If we peel away the rhetoric and look at the reality of a situation like Ms. Christiansen’s, we believe the Reproductive Health Act has merit.

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