Pro-lifers mobilize in fight against abortion expansion

The Catholic Church in New York and its pro-life coalition are mobilizing in the final push against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plans to expand abortion by codifying Roe v. Wade into New York state law.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the bishops of the New York State Catholic Conference called upon Catholics to “vigorously and unapologetically” oppose the passage of the newly unveiled Women’s Equality Act over its abortion plank.

“We are profoundly distressed by the introduction of a bill in New York state today that would ease restrictions in state law on late-term abortion and runs the serious risk of broadly expanding abortion access at all stages of gestation,” the bishops said in a June 4 statement. While the Church could support the act’s other nine planks, which include tougher measures meant to protect women against workplace and pregnancy discrimination, housing discrimination, domestic violence and sex trafficking, the bishops said plans to expand abortion prevented Catholics from supporting the bill.

The bill states: “The state shall not deny a woman’s right to obtain an abortion as established by the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, New York protects a woman’s right to obtain an abortion when the fetus is not viable, or when necessary to protect a woman’s life or health as determined by a licensed physician.”

The bill also includes language striking abortion from the state penal code and states that the WEA will not conflict with existing state and federal conscience protections for “health care providers.”

Liberalizing laws

But the Catholic Conference’s analysis of the bill states that the law could effectively ban any attempt at restricting abortion and lead to late-term abortion on demand. Removing abortion from the penal law could empower the state health department to permit non-doctors to perform abortions and remove criminal penalties for domestic abusers who kill a pregnant woman’s unborn child. It also states that failing to define “health care providers” still puts the conscience rights of Catholic individuals and institutions at risk.

Pro-life Sen. Ruben Diaz Sr., D-Bronx, told Our Sunday Visitor that the WEA would pass the Senate easily if the governor decided to separate the abortion plank from the rest of the bill.

“If the governor really wants to help women, he should separate the nine other pieces from the abortion part,” Diaz said. “Let’s deal with the nine, and abortion separately. But he won’t do that, because he knows the people of this state don’t want more abortion.”

Cuomo told reporters at a June 4 news conference that he would not give up the abortion plank to save the other nine of his women’s equality agenda.

The act is expected to sail through the Democratic-controlled New York State Assembly, but is right now blocked from coming to the floor by Sen. Majority Leader Dean Skelos, R-Rockville Centre, who has called the bill “unnecessary” and an “extreme measure” meant to expand partial-birth abortion in the state.

Mobilizing the faithful

New York Catholics and the pro-life coalition gathered under the banner of New Yorkers for Life have been mobilizing opposition through traditional and modern methods to counter the pressure of the governor’s lobbying machine.

“We’re mobilizing the faithful on a variety of levels,” said Kathy Gallagher, the Catholic Conference’s director of pro-life activities. She added they were encouraging an “all of the above strategy,” asking Catholics to contact senators, call local talk radio shows, and spread the word through Twitter, Facebook and the parish bulletin.

Gallagher said the New York bishops planned to have the priests in their dioceses read a letter from the bishops at Sunday Masses June 9, calling the faithful to action.

Many U.S. bishops also were adding their own personal appeals. Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone was creating a video appeal to share on the diocesan website, with the media and to spread through social media, Gallagher said.

Ed Mechmann, assistant director of the New York archdiocese’s Respect Life Office, said his office was coordinating with parish leaders and also encouraging local public “prayer and witness” events, as well as promoting a large pro-life bus rally at the state capital on June 12.

“This is the last stretch,” Kirsten Smith, spokeswoman for New Yorkers for Life, told OSV. “We’ve been engaging many churches, individuals and businesses who are united in stopping the abortion expansion in this measure.”

New Yorkers for Life, the diverse coalition (of more than 550 groups) spearheaded by the state Catholic Conference and the evangelical-led New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, has pushed a creative strategy to galvanize opposition since January, holding candlelight vigils, bus rallies, billboard campaigns with the message “Can’t we love them both,” and an ad campaign asking why Cuomo was prioritizing abortion expansion over job expansion.

But the “megaphone” of social media has been the pro-life coalition’s great equalizer in the battle against Cuomo’s traditional political lobbying machine, said Rev. Jason McGuire, executive president of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

“The power of social media is amplifying your message,” McGuire told OSV. “We’re able to effectively push back and remind people what this bill really is: abortion expansion.”

Pushing bill through

Cuomo, however, signaled to reporters that he disagreed the WEA was about abortion expansion and said pro-choice Republicans should know the bill would be a referendum on Roe v. Wade.

“This [bill] is very simple: Are you pro-choice, or are you not pro-choice?” Cuomo said.

Mechmann said Cuomo knows that in New York state, “the pro-choice label tends to win.”

“But if you talk about the details of the issue, then that’s a different picture entirely,” Mechmann said.

He explained that the final push educating the public and lawmakers about the bill would be critical.

“The supporters of the bill realize that if they talk about this bill, they have real problems politically.”

Peter Jesserer Smith writes from New York.