The New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s eight bishops on public-policy issues, praised Gov. George Pataki’s Aug. 4 veto of legislation that would have increased availability of the so-called morning-after pill.
In an Aug. 5 interview, Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the Albany-based conference, called the veto “a first step toward restoring some common sense into the policies of New York regarding abortion and contraception.”
In June, the state Senate followed the Assembly’s lead in passing the bill — The Unintended Pregnancy Prevention Act — which would have allowed pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception without prescription.
In comments explaining his veto, Pataki noted that although he is pro-choice, he found that this particular bill lacked what he considered essential safeguards. He noted that the bill did not contain age restrictions on those who might ask for emergency contraception; limits on the quantities of emergency contraception that can be purchased at one time; or a prohibition on men buying the medications, which the governor said could allow them to “persuade vulnerable young women to engage in unprotected sexual intercourse.”
Pataki added that he was concerned that the bill was an attempt to circumvent the Food and Drug Administration’s regulatory authority, and that he would work with the bill’s supporters to craft a revised bill.
Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester, also praised Pataki for vetoing the bill.
“Not only does emergency contraception have the capacity to end the life of a newly developing human being, over-the-counter contraception has great potential to harm underage girls and women,” she said. “The high-dose hormones used in emergency-contraception pills are the same hormones that are used in HRT (hormone replacement therapy), which menopausal women are being urged to use with caution because of the associated risks. It is unconscionable that high-dose hormonal emergency-contraceptive pills would be released to anyone without individual medical guidance.”
In July, Bishop Matthew H. Clark joined Cardinal Edward Egan of the Archdiocese of New York and the six other bishops of New York dioceses in writing to urge Pataki to veto the bill. The bishops’ letter stated that the “‘morning-after pill’ can either prevent pregnancy or terminate a genetically unique human being. Medical experts … agree that the morning-after pill can alter the lining of the uterus so that a new human embryo would be unable to implant. If the pills act in this manner, a chemical abortion has occurred, destroying the life of this new human being.” The bishops added that the bill was “especially alarming because it carries no age restriction nor any requirement for parental consent.”
Proponents of the bill argue that emergency contraceptives do not cause abortions, although NARAL Pro-Choice New York acknowledges on its Web site that emergency contraceptives can act to prevent embryonic implantation. The Catholic Church teaches that human life begins at conception, not at implantation, which occurs more than a week later.
Gallagher noted that common sense should have alerted the bill’s supporters to deficiencies in the morning-after pill legislation.
“Of course children should be under a doctor’s care when they receive powerful drugs,” she said. “Of course children should be guided by the wisdom of their parents. And of course women should be aware that these pills can act prior to or after conception. Yet this bill just quashed common sense.”