ROCHESTER — Carrying signs bearing such slogans as, “Spitzer gives women a bad RHAPP,” more than 100 anti-abortion protesters marched the sidewalk Jan. 22 in front of the First Unitarian Church in Rochester to protest a visit that evening by Silda Wall Spitzer, wife of Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who spoke at the church to promote her husband’s Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act.
Taking to the sidewalk 35 years after U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton effectively legalized abortions throughout pregnancy, demonstrators protested Spitzer’s proposal, which would make abortion a fundamental right in New York state, rewriting existing state laws and blocking virtually any new state laws restricting the procedure, according to the New York State Catholic Conference.
Organized by New Yorkers for Parental Rights, a group that formed to oppose Spitzer’s proposal, the demonstration outside the church was attended by many parishioners from Catholic churches throughout the diocese.
“We are not a membership organization, but we have supporters from all over the state,” said Jessica Shanahan, who is president of the group and attends Brighton’s St. Thomas More Parish.
The board of New Yorkers for Parental Rights includes local, state and national pro-life activists, including Jann Armantrout, life-issues coordinator for the Diocese of Rochester, and Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the state Catholic conference.
A mother of four, Shanahan called both “extreme” and “dangerous” Spitzer’s proposal, which she said would permit a school nurse to take a 12-year-old girl to get an abortion without ever talking to the girl’s parents. The governor released the proposal last year, but it would need sponsors in the state Legislature this year.
The proposal would allow "any health-care practitioner" to perform chemical and surgical abortions prior to viability, permit late-term abortions in New York for any reason and without restriction, and force the state’s Catholic hospitals and other religious health-care facilities to provide abortions, according to the state Catholic conference and New Yorkers for Parental Rights.
The text of the governor’s proposal states that health-care practitioners would have to be qualified and licensed to perform such abortions. The proposal also states that post-viability abortions would be performed only to preserve the "life and health" of a mother. However, the Catholic conference has pointed out that previous court decisions on abortion have made these terms meaningless by broadly interpreting "health" to include mental health and other problems.
Additionally, New Yorkers for Parental Rights claims that the act would protect from criminal liability a man who coerced a woman into having an abortion or injured a woman with the intent to cause an abortion.
“Children under the age of 16 would be allowed to purchase powerful hormonal contraceptives without the consent or guidance of a doctor or even a pharmacist,” Armantrout told the Catholic Courier.
Opposition to the act is one of the diocese’s three main public-policy priorities for 2008, Armantrout said. She added that she has been monitoring the progress of Spitzer’s proposal closely, and has been giving talks on the subject at parishes throughout the diocese.
“The diocese is in touch with New Yorkers for Parental Rights; we are following the bill’s progress closely through the New York State Catholic Conference, and we are encouraging all parishes to give their parishioners an opportunity to learn more about it,” she said.
In addition to calling for the passage of the act during his Jan. 9 State of the State address, Gov. Spitzer and his wife released a Jan. 22 statement promoting it.
“The politicization of women’s reproductive health has resulted in a crusade to undermine not only the constitutional protections Roe v. Wade recognizes, but some have even sought to interfere with the ability of women to obtain birth control, including emergency contraception,” the Spitzers’ statement said. “The decision to become a parent is a deeply personal one and, for some women, a complex and difficult medical decision. We have always believed such a sensitive and personal decision should only be made privately by a woman and the counsel that she chooses to seek.”
Some protesters said they were upset that the governor’s wife came to Rochester to speak about the bill on the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. Her visit was part of a panel discussion titled "A Conversation on Women’s Health," which was sponsored by Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse Region, Family Planning Advocates of New York State, Reproductive Rights Task Force, First Unitarian Church of Rochester and the Greater Rochester Chapter of the National Organization for Women.
“I think it’s reprehensible that the governor’s wife is here on the anniversary date of Roe vs. Wade,” said Gene Michael, a member of Rochester’s Our Lady of Victory/St. Joseph Parish.
His wife, Judy Michael, said the new law is not necessary to maintain the state’s current abortion laws, pointing out that New York’s laws were written in 1970, predating Roe v. Wade. She said she also opposes the legislation because it would permit pre-viability abortions to take place without oversight by a medical doctor. Current law states that after the 12th week of pregnancy, abortions must be performed only in a hospital and only on an in-patient basis.
“It’s a very scary thing,” Judy Michael said. “Here you have a surgical procedure that will be done by some sort of technician.”
Patricia Amato, a parishioner at Our Lady of Mercy Parish in Greece, said she believes the bill would endanger generations of children in the future.
“Life is the most precious thing we have in this world from the moment of conception,” she said. “This bill that the governor is proposing is really devastating to everyone in New York state.”
Her husband, Fred, said a large turnout for the demonstration was important to show that people care about life issues.
“It’s important for us to be here today, because there are many people who prefer to stay home, even though they support our cause,” Fred Amato said. “We need to show that there are people who support this cause.”
Christian Goetting agreed that the sanctity of life should be people’s main priority.
“If we can’t stand up for the most innocent in our world, in our nation, in our state, then we are in trouble,” said Goetting, who attends St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Irondequoit.
Delores Militello, a member of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish in Greece, said she operated a pregnancy center for 10 years before moving to the Rochester area recently. She said girls often would tell her that the staff at abortion clinics said their unborn babies were just a “glob of tissue.”
“When (the girls) found out it was a baby, they were devastated,” Militello said.
Maureen Madonia of Irondequoit, who also works at a crisis pregnancy center, said she is frustrated that pro-life advocates not made significant progress during the past several decades.
“We’ve been fighting this battle since the ’70s, and it’s the only way we can use our voice, and we don’t seem to be making any headway in New York state,” said Madonia, who attends St. Thomas the Apostle Parish.
Karis Hannah, a St. Thomas the Apostle parishioner and a mother of five, brought her children to the rally, stroller and all.
“My five children are a demonstration in and of itself that I am for life,” Madonia said.
Jamey Campbell, a ninth-grade student at Rochester’s Nazareth Academy, said she participated in the demonstration because she wanted to show that some young people support pro-life causes. She said she believes many teens are unable to look at the long-term consequences when they are considering their options during a teen pregnancy.
“As a teenager, you can’t make a choice like that without making a rash decision,” Jamey said. “(Abortion is) an easy way out.”