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As Democrats in New York last month celebrated Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signing of a law expanding abortion rights in the state, anti-abortion campaigners predicted it would eliminate criminal penalties for violence that ends women’s pregnancies.
The debate resurfaced over the weekend after the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, cited the Reproductive Health Act as the reason for dropping an abortion charge against a man who the police say fatally stabbed his former girlfriend when she was 14 weeks pregnant.
The man, Anthony Hobson, 48, was arrested and charged on Friday with second-degree murder for the Feb. 3 attack on Jennifer Irigoyen, 35.
Meris Campbell, a spokeswoman for the district attorney, said prosecutors dropped a second-degree abortion charge after learning that the Reproductive Health Act, which was signed on Jan. 22, had stripped the crime from the state penal code. The New York Post’s article about the decision roused many who are against abortion.
“Thanks to the #RHA, it’s open season on pregnant women in New York,” Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the New York State Catholic Conference, wrote on Twitter.
But supporters of the law, which decriminalizes abortion and places it in public health codes with other medical procedures, say such fear is driven by misinformation. The debate reflected a mostly partisan divide over abortion, which may be a key issue in the 2020 election.
In a joint editorial published Friday in The Times Union of Albany, State Senators Liz Krueger, a Democrat from Manhattan and the law’s chief sponsor in the upper chamber, and Anna Kaplan, a Democrat from Long Island, wrote that physical attacks that end pregnancies can be prosecuted as first-degree assault, which carries a prison sentence of up to 25 years, “far more than the previous sentence for ‘unlawful abortion.’”
“Furthermore, judges have discretion to increase the penalty in cases where the crime was particularly violent,” the editorial states. “The R.H.A. does not prevent appropriate charging and sentencing of violent perpetrators.”
Daniel R. Alonso, the former chief assistant prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, said in an interview on Sunday that charging Mr. Hobson with abortion would not have affected his potential sentence for murder, which supersedes an assault charge.
“The basic thing is, because the killing of the fetus is the same act as the killing of the mother, even though they were separate charges under the old law, you couldn’t get more than 25 to life,” he said.
Prosecutors said surveillance video inside Ms. Irigoyen’s building in Ridgewood showed Mr. Hobson dragging his former girlfriend out of her third-floor apartment to a stairwell, where he stabbed her several times in the torso, neck and abdomen. She later died at a hospital.
Mr. Hobson surrendered to the 104th Precinct on Friday morning with his defense lawyer, Steven J. Questlore, who said his client is “committed” to facing the murder charge against him. He would not discuss specifics of the case or say whether Mr. Hobson intended to fight the charge or plead guilty.
Regardless of the charges, Mr. Alonso said, it is unlikely that anyone who commits violence against pregnant women will get off easy.
“Prosecutors have never gone easy on guys who killed pregnant women,” he said, “and neither have judges.”
Abortion charges are rare in New York. Last year, only one person was charged with the crime, according to the governor’s office. Prosecutors rarely used the charge because it did not add anything to the prosecution of a case, officials said.
In the case from last year, the police said Oscar Alvarez stabbed his 26-week-pregnant fiancée six times in the abdomen with a kitchen knife on May 22, 2017, after accusing her of infidelity. He then held her hostage for at least 30 minutes.
The victim, Livia Abreu, an Army veteran who served in Afghanistan, survived. But her fetus did not.
Mr. Alvarez was charged with attempted murder and second-degree abortion. It is not clear whether the Reproductive Health Act will affect his case.
Patrice O’Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said prosecutors “are continuing to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the case, and evaluating existing law.”