Pro-life activists are waging a multimedia campaign — including billboards and television ads — to educate the public about the implications of New York’s proposed Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, which they say would make sweeping and dangerous changes to the state’s abortion laws.
In the anti-RHAPP TV commercial, for example, a narrator speaking over images of preteen and teenage girls explains that although a school nurse cannot dispense an aspirin without parental consent, the proposed legislation would continue to permit a 12-year-old girl to get an abortion without her parents’ knowledge.
Activists contend that the bill has the potential to block any future restrictions on abortion or efforts to get parental-consent laws passed in New York state.
“From my standpoint, the worst part about this bill is it is so broadly written that it could have extremely far-reaching consequences that we might not even know about right now,” said Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the state’s Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops in matters of public policy.
The bill would make it a fundamental right for a woman to have an abortion. Pro-life activists say the bill would allow nondoctors to perform abortions, eliminate conscience clauses that enable Catholic hospitals and physicians to refuse to perform abortions, force health insurers and employers to pay for abortions, and weaken penalties for criminal acts that result in abortion.
“It’s forcing all of us who have strong pro-life convictions to approve of the destruction of human life,” Gallagher said. “It’s repulsive in that sense.”
Two versions of the bill featuring nearly identical language have been introduced in the state Senate. A Republican version, S5829, was introduced into the Rules Committee at the request of former governor Eliot Spitzer.
A second version, S6045-A, introduced by state Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Yonkers, has been referred to the Health Committee. In March, several Democratic senators signed up to be cosponsors of the bill.
“We have activated the Catholic Advocacy Network in the districts of these senators and asked people to write to them,” Gallagher said. “We know that these senators have gotten an awful lot of pressure.”
In April, Stewart-Cousins petitioned to bring the bill out of committee and up for a vote in the Senate — a move that is rarely successful for a minority-party member, Gallagher said. For now, the bill appears to be going nowhere in the Senate, in part because of strong Republican opposition to the bill, she said.
“All the signs are that this bill will not come up for a vote this year,” said Gallagher, who noted that the political climate could change next year.
Although pro-life Democrat Darrel Aubertine, D-Watertown, won a special election to the state Senate this year, shaving the Republicans’ majority to one vote, Democrat David Paterson’s sudden ascension to governor gave Joseph Bruno, Senate majority leader and temporary president of the Senate, two votes in the instance of a tie, Gallagher said.
Like Aubertine, there are some pro-life Democratic senators who oppose the bill and some Republicans who support it, Gallagher said. However, the state Democratic Campaign Committee has come out in support of RHAPP and, according to the committee’s Web site, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League has targeted the districts of Republican senators in an effort to win the Senate majority.
“We think it is going to play into the re-elections of some candidates,” said Jessica Shanahan, president of New Yorkers for Parental Rights and a parishioner of St. Thomas More Parish in Brighton.
Shanahan said her group has attracted support from Republicans and Democrats; its spokesman is Leslie D√≠az, wife of Democratic Sen. Rub√©n D√≠az, a Pentecostal minister and opponent of the bill. Democratic Assemblyman Michael Benjamin also circulated a letter to his fellow lawmakers opposing the bill.
Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester, suggested that voters ask each state candidate where they stand on the RHAPP bill, and whether they will protect human life and respect the rights of a family.
She said if the answer is no or is unclear, “People should take that under consideration when they vote.”
Armantrout said education about the bill has been done both by the state Catholic conference, the state’s bishops, and through grassroots e-mail and viral communications of groups such as New Yorkers for Parental Rights.
Shanahan said during April, her group posted billboards saying the bill gives women a bad RHAPP and listing the group’s Web site in Rochester, Yonkers and near the state capitol in Albany.
New Yorkers for Parental Rights hosted a rally outside of Stewart-Cousins’ Yonkers office, which attracted about 150 to 200 people of various faiths and all walks of life, Shanahan said.
The group’s 30-second commercial is on its Web site and will run on the American Family Association of New York’s weekly public-access television show, which airs at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Channel 12 in the Finger Lakes and at 9 p.m. Fridays on Channel 20 in Buffalo.
Although pro-life activists have been vocal in opposing the bill, it also has attracted vocal supporters. Some have argued that the bill would not wipe out current conscience clauses, which allow providers to decline to perform abortions.
Armantrout said that even though the 2002 Women’s Health and Wellness Act included an exemption for religious organizations, that state law was used to force Catholic organizations such as hospitals, Catholic Charities and schools to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients.
“This is a particularly forceful campaign, and I think that’s because the bill is so extreme,” Armantrout said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Information, resources, e-mail addresses and videos regarding RHAPP are available at www.nyscatholic.org, www.abortionbill.org and www.nyfpr.com.