Critics of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed Reproductive Health Act, which would create a fundamental right to abortion, have described the proposal as both “serious” and “absurd.” 

NYC march
Women carry a banner as they walk in a procession from St. Patrick’s Cathedral to an abortion clinic in New York Jan. 22. CNS

“It is absurd. Does anyone think that New York needs more abortion? We already have one of the highest abortion rates in country,” said Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of the eight dioceses of New York. 

According to a study by Americans United for Life (AUL), New York “comes in at No. 46, on how it has protected women and the unborn from the harms inherent in abortion,” Denise Burke, AUL’s vice president for legal affairs, told Our Sunday Visitor. 

“The governor calls it the Reproductive Health Act, Gallagher said. “We call it the Abortion Expansion Act. It is dangerous, extreme and unnecessary, and goes well beyond Roe v. Wade,” the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that imposed legal abortion on all states. 

“I read an op-ed piece in my local newspaper by someone who said: ‘I’m pro-choice, but this is too far,’” Gallagher said. 

“It’s worse than Roe v. Wade,” Dr. Anthony Oliva, a surgeon in Syracuse, N.Y., and a regional director of the Catholic Medical Association, told OSV. “It would outlaw restrictions on abortion that even pro-choicers think are reasonable.” 

He added that at a time when opponents of gun control are accused of being extremist for opposing any limitations on gun ownership, advocates of legal abortion are spared such scrutiny for their insistence on no controls or restrictions. “There is a definite double standard,” he said.

Serious harm

Cardinal Dolan

Yet opponents see the proposal as serious in terms of the harm it could do and in the real prospect that the bill could pass as part of a larger “Women’s Equality Act,” which would include measures against pregnancy discrimination and supporting victims of domestic violence and human trafficking. 

“The governor’s proposal is a serious threat,” said Ed Mechmann, an attorney and assistant director for family life for the Archdiocese of New York. “The bill would create a fundamental right to abortion beyond anything in Roe v. Wade, putting abortion on the same level as the right to vote, the right to free speech, the freedom of religion.” 

Bishop William Murphy, bishop of Rockville Centre, N.Y., in an interview with The National Catholic Register, warned that such an emphasis on a right to abortion fosters “a false premise, absolute control over my body with no reference to God or neighbor.” That premise “leaves us each isolated from one another and thus at risk in society.” 

Beyond that, critics warn, the bill would allow non-physicians to perform abortions and would eliminate restrictions on late-term abortions.

‘Fundamental right’

In addition, Mechmann said, the proposed law, by establishing a fundamental right to abortion, could force health care institutions, including Catholic hospitals, to perform abortions. 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, wrote in a letter to Gov. Cuomo: “We obviously disagree on the question of the legality of abortion, but surely we are in equally strong agreement that the abortion rate in New York is tragically high. 

“There was a time when abortion supporters claimed they wanted to make abortion ‘safe, legal, and rare.’ Yet this measure is specifically designed to expand access to abortion, and therefore to increase the abortion rate,” the cardinal wrote. 

In a column in Catholic New York, the newspaper of the New York archdiocese, the cardinal wrote: “It’s as though, in their minds, our state motto, Excelsior (“Ever Upward”) applies to the abortion rate!” 

“I am hard-pressed,” Cardinal Dolan noted, “to think of a piece of legislation that is less needed or more harmful than this one.” 

Pete Sheehan writes from New York.

Bundled Measures
In one way, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest effort to a pass a Reproductive Health Act is nothing new. 
“This is the same proposal that Gov. Cuomo and two other governors have already tried to pass,” Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities of the New York State Catholic Conference, told Our Sunday Visitor.
The bill, which would declare a fundamental right to abortion and eliminate many controls that exist in New York state law, was first proposed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and his successor Gov. David Paterson, she noted.
“Yet it never went anywhere,” Gallagher said. “It never even came to a vote in either house of the state legislature.”
Opponents of the bill are concerned, however, that Cuomo may have more success this time. At his recent State of the State address, the governor linked the Reproductive Health Act with various other proposals, calling them collectively the “Women’s Equality Act.”
“It is absurd to put this bill as part of a women’s agenda,” Gallagher said. “If you talk to the average New York woman, she isn’t going to tell you that she wants more abortion.”
“As a stand-alone bill, we would have a decent shot at defeating it,” said Ed Mechmann, an attorney and assistant director for family life for the Archdiocese of New York.
Yet if it is bundled with measures against domestic violence, human trafficking and pregnancy discrimination, Mechmann said, the appeal would broaden and some legislators might be fearful of seeming to vote against the more positive provisions.
Gallagher pointed out that the governor had success with his recent gun-control initiative by bundling less controversial measure with more controversial measures.
Several years ago, advocates of contraception were able to pass the Women’s Wellness Act, which required employers in New York state to include contraceptive coverage in their employee health care plans, by bundling it with coverage for mammograms, Pap tests and screening for osteoporosis.
“What we’re trying to do,” Mechmann said, “is to meet with key legislative leaders and try to keep focused on what is at stake. We’re also trying to raise awareness of what is in the bill and what it would mean.”
“It is as though supporters of abortion are saying to anyone with pro-life principles: ‘Shut up and go away,’” Gallagher said. “ I think that is the wrong message for a state which prides itself on tolerance and inclusion to be sending.”