New York state’s eight bishops — including Rochester’s Bishop Matthew H. Clark — voiced in a joint March 10 statement their strong opposition to Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act.
The bishops’ statement describes the proposed legislation as “a radical proposal” that would elevate abortion to a fundamental right in New York state and maintain the state’s reputation as the “abortion capital of the United States.” The bishops are calling on all Catholics to let their legislators know they oppose this bill, which Spitzer introduced last spring. The bishops also plan to meet privately with Spitzer March 10 to discuss the proposal, as well as education tax credits and other critical issues facing the state.
“When the eight bishops and cardinal of New York state speak with one voice on an issue, the seriousness of a matter must be appreciated,” Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester, told the Catholic Courier March 10.
“Bishop Clark and his brother bishops clearly express the concerns about the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act. The deceptive language of the bill attempts to disguise the real implications if the bill were to become law,” Armantrout said.
The proposal, known as RHAPP, would establish the choice to terminate a pregnancy as a protected and fundamental right and ensure abortions are legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy, said Armantrout, who also spoke about the proposal Feb. 27 at St. Mary Parish in Waterloo. It would allow post-viability abortions to be performed outside of hospitals and on an outpatient basis in clinics, and it also would transfer the state’s abortion-related laws from the criminal code into public-health law.
RHAPP would make abortion virtually immune from state regulation and reverse the current law requiring that only doctors may perform abortion. Instead, it would allow any health-care practitioner to perform the procedures, Armantrout said. It also would block the 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.
Last but not least, RHAPP would eliminate from current law conscience protections that 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, Armantrout said.
“The extremism of this proposal is couched in euphemisms like ‘choice’ and ‘reproductive health care for women.’ The words have become unmoored from their meaning; they cannot mask the fact that the bill attempts to legislate approval for a procedure that is always gravely wrong,” the bishops said in their statement.
The bishops’ statement maintains that when a legal system violates one human being’s basic right to life on the grounds of another’s choice, that system is fundamentally flawed. This piece of legislation is particularly obnoxious not only because it threatens the Catholic Church, but also threatens women, said Dennis Poust, communications director for the New York State Catholic Conference, which serves as the public-policy arm of the state’s bishops.
As they noted in their statement, New York’s bishops do not relish the thought of a public fight with the governor and the state Legislature, Poust said.
“They’ve enjoyed cordial relations with the governor, but … it’s the governor who’s sort of bringing this fight to them,” he said.
“We would be failing in our responsibility as bishops if we did not oppose it strongly. This proposal threatens the life-affirming work we do day in and day out. … Compliance with such a law would violate every principle that we hold sacred,” the bishops noted in their statement. “So oppose it we will — from our pulpits, in the media, through our advocacy network, in the legislature, and in collaboration with others who value and defend life.”
The bishops urge all New Yorkers to contact Spitzer and their legislators to voice their opposition to the RHAPP proposal.
“Stand up to defend the inviolable sanctity of human life, from the first moment of creation until natural death. Pray for an end to abortion and the conditions that force women into this terrible dilemma,” the bishops urged.
Bishop Clark first spoke out against the bill in June 2007, when his monthly “Along the Way” column in the Catholic Courier called the bill “intolerable.” Bishops and officials of the state’s eight dioceses have been working hard to educate people about the bill, and the state Catholic conference recently posted an educational video about RHAPP on the video-sharing Web site www.YouTube.com.
“I would say our advocacy on this issue is certainly unprecedented in the seven years I’ve been here,” Poust said. “What I find exciting is that the grassroots have really been mobilized. The pro-life communities all around the state have really gotten excited about this. They’re welcoming the opportunity to debate abortion.”
“I am proud that the leaders of our church have the courage and moral certitude to speak out against proposed law that violates the dignity of the human person, the sanctity of the family and the integrity of our health-care professionals,” Armantrout said March 10.
The bishops are not the only ones displeased with this legislation, he added. Ten members of the state’s Democrat-controlled Assembly recently signed a letter to Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and asked him not to allow the bill onto the floor for a vote, and at least four — and possibly more — Democrats in the Senate also oppose it, Poust said.
“There’s some sense that maybe the governor overplayed his hand here, that perhaps some members of his party may even be uncomfortable with this legislation, especially in an election year. … It’s by no means a slam dunk with the Democrats, and that says something,” he said.