On November 9, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Marjana Banzil, Director of Dr. Emily Women’s Health Center, spoke to students about reproductive justice issues in New York, including the legal and practical challenges women continue to face long after abortion was legalized in 1973. Spearheaded by Chloe Liederman ’13, the event was co-sponsored by several student organizations: National Lawyers Guild, Outlaws, BLS Democrats, BLSPI, Chess Society, Law Students for Reproductive Justice, American Constitution Society, and the BLS ACLU chapter.
Liederman began the discussion by pointing to the “more than 4,000 ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ that portray themselves as nonpartisan health and counseling clinics that provide referrals for abortions.” However, she noted, these centers do not staff licensed health professionals, nor do they provide abortions or referrals. Instead, they oppose contraception, family planning, and abortion.
“Here in NYC, we tend to think of abortion as being easily accessible, and that women can readily obtain abortions free of interference or harassment, and out of the way of prying eyes,” Liederman said. “But in fact, anti-choice protestors are bussed in from out-of-state and paid stipends to demonstrate outside of women’s clinics.” One of these clinics is Dr. Emily Women’s Health Center, located in the Bronx, where BLS’ National Lawyers Guild sends legal observers every week to monitor police and anti-choice protestor activity.
Established in July 2004 under Marjana Banzil’s direction, Dr. Emily’s is the largest private reproductive health center providing abortion services in the Bronx. It has expanded into a multifaceted women’s medical center offering abortion services in addition to complete gynecological and obstetrical care.
Banzil talked about her experience directing a center that is a target of ongoing protests by pro-life volunteers. She provided an overview of the tactics that the protesters use to prevent women from having abortions and the FACE Law (Freedom to Access Clinic Entrances Act). She has worked with the City Council to educate the police about containing protester activities. “Abortion providers are on the front line of the reproductive rights battle. It is a woman’s civil right to obtain a legal abortion,” said Banzil.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has played a role in the passage of several pieces of City Council legislation protecting women’s full access to reproductive healthcare. The Clinic Access Act passed in 2009 ensures that women visiting a healthcare facility can do so without facing harassment from protesters blocking the entrance. She also sponsored controversial legislation that became law, which requires Pregnancy Service Centers to disclose what services they do and do not provide.
In response to Banzil’s comments, Speaker Quinn stated, “it is critical in keeping choice strong in the city for people doing the work to be in touch with elected officials.” One of the reasons for enacting the laws currently on the books, she explained, was due to the reports the City Council received from local clinics like Dr. Emily’s.
“It’s important to keep choice alive,” she said. “It’s easy to say you’re pro-choice but you have to stand up for what you believe in and fight for it.” One of the ways she has sought to do this was through introducing the truth in advertising bill, which has been challenged in court.
The well attended presentation closed with a brief Q&A and a reception followed.