The New York State Catholic Conference is sharply criticizing an abortion provision in the Women’s Equality Act, which was introduced June 4 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
In a press conference June 4, Cuomo said the plan would codify in state law the existing federal law on abortion, in addition to closing legal loopholes he said have allowed unequal pay for equal work, sexual harassment, pregnancy discrimination and family-status discrimination. The legislation also would strengthen state laws against human trafficking and protections for domestic violence victims.
"There is a societal bias and discrimination against women, and it is pervasive," Cuomo said.
In a statement issued by the Catholic conference on behalf of the state’s bishops, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said that the bill would ease restrictions in state law on late-term abortion and could broadly expand abortion across all stages of gestation.
"This legislation would add a broad and undefined ‘health’ exception for late-term abortion and would repeal the portion of the penal law that governs abortion policy, opening the door for non-doctors to perform abortions and potentially decriminalizing even forced or coerced abortions," Cardinal Dolan’s statement said.
Cuomo said a coalition including representatives of abortion rights and family-planning organizations helped draft the bill, and determined it was necessary to incorporate all 10 points of the proposal in the legislation.
"Our position is that we want all 10, we need all 10 (components)," Cuomo said.
Critics, on the other hand, took issue with the decision to tie abortion legislation to a variety of needed protections for women.
Cardinal Dolan noted that the Catholic conference supports the other nine points of the governor’s agenda, which the cardinal said would enhance the true dignity of women.
"The direct taking of the life of a child in the womb in no way enhances a woman’s dignity," Cardinal Dolan said.
"It is a shame that Gov. Cuomo is holding the other elements of his Women’s Equality Act hostage to late-term abortion expansion," said the Rev. Jason J. McGuire, executive director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms. "It is a disgrace that the governor continues to do nothing whatsoever to decrease our state’s woefully high abortion rate and to bring New York’s abortion laws into line with the views of the voting public. The last thing that New York needs is to invite late-term abortionists like Kermit Gosnell to set up shop in the Empire State."
The text of the abortion provision states: "The state shall not deny a women’s (sic) right to obtain an abortion as established by the United States Supreme Court in the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. Notwithstanding any law to the contrary, New York protects a woman’s right to obtain an abortion when the fetus is not viable, or when necessary to protect a woman’s life or health as determined by a licensed physician."
The bill also includes a provision on the conscience rights of a health-care provider. It states, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to conflict with any applicable state or federal law or regulation permitting a health care provider to refrain from providing abortions due to the provider’s religious or moral beliefs."
However, Cardinal Dolan called the conscience protections vague and insufficient.
"We are concerned about the religious liberty of our health facilities," he said in the statement. "While the bill’s proponents say it will simply ‘codify’ federal law, it is selective in its codification. Nowhere does it address the portions of federal laws that limit abortion, such as the ban on taxpayer funding, the ban on partial birth abortion or protections for unborn victims of violence."
During his press conference, Cuomo was asked about opposition to the Women’s Equality Act from such pro-life groups as the New York State Catholic Conference.
"The Catholic Church is pro-life," Cuomo said. "I respect that they will disagree with this language because it affirms a right to abortion, and they oppose abortion."
Cuomo said he will visit Seneca Falls June 5 to speak about the proposed legislation.