Catholics to lobby in Albany - Catholic Courier

Catholics to lobby in Albany

Approximately 1,000 Catholics are expected to gather in Albany March 10 to demonstrate to state lawmakers the strength and unity of the Catholic voice during the New York State Catholic Conference’s annual Public Policy Day. These Catholics will be lobbying their legislators about a variety of issues and concerns, but chief among them will be the proposed Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, often referred to by opponents — including the Catholic conference — as a “radical abortion bill.”

“It would be a mistake to say the abortion bill isn’t a priority, because it certainly is the most serious threat facing human life in our state,” said Dennis Poust, spokesman for the Catholic conference, which represents the state’s bishops on public-policy matters. “Certainly issues relating to human life are always a priority because everything flows from the right to life.”

The bill, also known as RHAPP, seeks to ensure that abortions are legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy. It also would make abortion virtually immune to any state regulation or restriction, including parental notification for abortions performed on minor children, restrictions on taxpayer funding for abortion, and informed-consent requirements for pregnant women regarding abortion’s risks and alternatives.

RHAPP also seeks to eliminate conscience protection in current law, which could force Catholic hospitals, agencies and schools to support, permit and provide coverage for abortions. It also could undermine New York state’s maternity programs, which work to reduce infant mortality, since under RHAPP these programs would be viewed as discriminatory by favoring childbirth over abortion, according to information provided by the Catholic conference.

Yet as serious as it is, RHAPP is not the only issue on the lobbying agenda for the conference, which also is encouraging Public Policy Day participants to talk to their lawmakers about:

* Preserving Catholic schools: Independent and religious schools, including Catholic schools, save New York’s taxpayers more than $8 billion each year and are an integral part of the state’s economy, according to information provided by the Catholic conference. The conference supports education tax credits, which would help preserve religious and independent schools while relieving pressure on the state budget.

* Health-care reform: Catholics believe health care is a basic right that should be accessible to all. Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget cuts funding to hospitals and nursing homes, including Catholic institutions, and the Catholic conference believes these cuts will severely limit the availability of health care to the elderly and medically vulnerable people of all ages. Instead, the conference is calling for investment in home- and community-based services, and in the health-care work force in order to ensure adequate health-care service delivery.

* Support for poor families: As the economic situation worsens, more and more New Yorkers are experiencing financial difficulty, but the Catholic conference believes the state still has a moral and ethical obligation to care for its most vulnerable citizens. The creation of affordable housing is a key way to do this, and such additional supports as child care, health care, education and training programs, and transportation would help families achieve and maintain self-sufficiency, according to materials provided by the conference.

* Traditional marriage: The Catholic conference also supports maintaining society’s traditional understanding of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. Paterson already has ordered state agencies to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, but redefining marriage creates serious religious-freedom issues and undermines traditional marriages by removing their link to procreation, according to the conference, which adds that a redefinition of marriage could have harmful effects on children and families.

* Rockefeller Drug Laws: These laws, enacted in the 1970s, require mandatory imposition of harsh prison sentences for most drug offenders. The state’s bishops support treatment and rehabilitation rather than incarceration for nonviolent offenders because it is more effective and economical, according to the conference.

The Catholic conference has conducted a Public Policy Day at the capitol each year for more than two decades, and an average of about 1,000 Catholics usually attend, Poust said.

“The main thing is we hope to influence the various politicians … through a show of strength, to let them know that there are real Catholic voters behind the Catholic conference. We are not just a group of lobbyists in Albany or a group of bishops, but we represent people who share these beliefs,” he said.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To register for Public Policy Day or to learn more about these issues, contact your local Catholic Charities office or visit the New York State Catholic Conference’s Web site at www.nyscatholic.org.

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