WATERLOO — New York state’s Catholics need to inform themselves about Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act and urge their legislators to vote against the bill. That’s the message Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester, delivered to St. Mary Church in Waterloo Feb. 27.
The bill proposed by Spitzer last spring may sound harmless, but its name is misleading, Armantrout said, noting that the legislation actually poses a serious threat to the dignity of the unborn and to individual rights.
“It sounds as though it would be something very good for women and very good for health,” Armantrout told her audience. “If you look it over, you’ll see that this is really an expansion of abortion law in New York state.”
The bill appears to be a frightening attempt to enshrine abortion on demand in New York state, she added.
Bishop Matthew H. Clark immediately responded to Spitzer’s proposal by penning a Catholic Courier column in which he called the bill “intolerable” and asked the Diocesan Public Policy Committee to make “affirming the dignity of the unborn human being” an education priority on the diocese’s 2007-08 public-policy agenda, Armantrout said.
If passed, RHAPP, as the proposal is known, would ensure the continuation of New York state’s liberal abortion laws and would shield abortions in the state from any potential federal rulings or legislation that might be passed in the future. Even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, for example, this bill would protect abortion in New York state, Armantrout said.
Bishop Clark and the New York State Catholic Conference, which is the public-policy arm of the state’s bishops, have several main objections to the bill, she said.
RHAPP would establish the choice to terminate a pregnancy as a protected and fundamental right, and would ensure that abortions were legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy, Armantrout said. It also would allow post-viability abortions to be performed outside of hospitals and on an outpatient basis in clinics. She explained that performing abortions outside of hospitals means that no neonatal facilities or specialists would be available to care for any viable baby that happened to be born during the course of an abortion.
The proposal would remove the state’s abortion-related laws from the criminal code and instead place them in the public-health law, negating the possibility of criminal prosecution, and make abortion virtually immune from any state regulation, she said. Among other things, this means parental notification could not be required before performing abortions on minors.
“Although your daughter can’t get an aspirin or get her ears pierced (without permission), she can get an abortion,” Armantrout remarked.
It also would reverse current law that only doctors may perform abortions, and instead would allow any health-care practitioner to perform them.
“What’s really quite ironic about this situation is that this is supposed to be the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act. That doesn’t sound like it’s protecting anyone’s health,” Armantrout said. “Abortion is surgery, and surgery always involves risks. This bill to me in many ways kind of moves abortion back to the alley.”
She suggested that Spitzer and members of the pro-choice movement may be motivated to eliminate the requirement that only doctors may perform abortions because the number of doctors and facilities willing to perform or permit abortions has declined dramatically in recent years. This decline seems to have started around the time three-dimensional ultrasounds became popular and people could no longer easily say a fetus was just a clump of tissue, she added.
“In 1990 it became almost standard that if you were pregnant you’d have an ultrasound done. That generation, which is now able to vote in the next presidential election, is polling more pro-life than any group of young people in the last 35 years,” she said.
RHAPP also would block any future passage of an “Unborn Victims of Violence Act,” meaning that those convicted of killing a pregnant woman and her unborn child could only be punished for one murder.
Perhaps of greatest concern to Catholic Charities agencies across the state, the proposal also would eliminate the conscience protections in current law, which allow doctors and hospitals to refuse to perform abortions; medical students to refuse to learn how to perform abortions; and Catholic agencies, hospitals and schools to refuse to provide insurance coverage for abortions, she said.
This last provision takes away an individual’s civil right to refuse to participate in an activity he or she finds morally reprehensible, Armantrout said, noting that the bill would protect a woman’s right to choose to abort her child, but in so doing, would take rights away from many other people.
“There are more rights than just the right of the individual to abort her child,” she said.
Catholics should exercise their own rights by letting their political representatives know they strongly oppose this proposal, she added.
“The New York State Catholic Conference has a Catholic Advocacy Network. I hope that every one of you are signed up for it,” Armantrout said.
Through the network’s e-mail-notification system, members will receive e-mail alerts when the bill begins to move through the state Legislature so that they would know when to start writing to and calling their elected representatives. People can sign up for this service on the state Catholic conference’s Web site, www.nyscatholic.org.
The diocese also has produced a six-week series of bulletin articles, which are aimed at educating parishioners about the issue and encouraging them to take action, Armantrout said. These articles have been tailor-made for each parish, and include the names and contact information for elected representatives serving a particular area.