The New York State Catholic Conference is urging New Yorkers to oppose Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, which was released days after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding a ban on partial-birth abortion.
“The governor’s bill is uncompromising in its terms and extremely sweeping in scope,” said a press release from the conference, which represents New York’s bishops in matters of public policy.
Spitzer’s proposed legislation would, among other things, eliminate a conscience protection from the current law, forcing Catholic hospitals and other facilities licensed or funded by the state to support, cover or perform abortions, the conference said.
“It’s really very chilling to think about the ramifications here,” Kathleen Gallagher, the conference’s director of Pro-Life Activities, said of Spitzer’s proposal, which has not yet found a sponsoring legislator to introduce it in the Senate or Assembly.
According to Spitzer, the proposed law would establish a “fundamental right of privacy” including the right to choose or refuse contraception and the right to bear a child or have an abortion. The conference contends that these “rights” should not be considered equally.
Under current state law — which the conference says is unenforceable due to federal decisions — abortions are legal through 24 weeks of pregnancy and can be performed after that time only to save a woman’s life. The conference says Spitzer’s proposal would aim to ensure abortion is legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy if the procedure is necessary to protect a woman’s life or health.
Further, the conference noted, “Courts have interpreted the term ‘health’ so broadly as to include social, economic and emotional distress factors, rending the term meaningless.”
The proposal also would transfer laws regarding abortion from the state’s criminal code to its public-health law, leaving it up to medical professionals to police themselves, the conference said.
“We see that as a very symbolic change because removing abortion laws from the criminal code is almost a blatant statement that no crime is being committed, that no child is being killed,” Gallagher said. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, though the federal rulings Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton effectively legalized abortions through all nine months of pregnancy, Catholic teaching holds that abortion kills an unborn child uniquely created by God.
The conference also said that Spitzer’s proposal might endanger women as well as babies inadvertently born alive during abortions because it would allow abortions to be performed by health-care providers other than medical doctors. It also would allow late-term abortions to be performed on an out-patient basis in clinics.
Asserting that federal law supersedes state law, Gallagher said federal law requires certain measures to be taken to save infants born alive during abortions.
The conference said Spitzer’s proposal also eliminates all references to abortions as homicides, and bars abortions from being covered by future rules or regulations, such as parental notifications of abortions performed on minor children.
The bill also would prevent the Legislature from passing laws requiring pregnant women to be informed of risks and alternatives to the procedure and would block future laws intended to restrict taxpayer funding of abortions.
New York is one of a few states that pays for nearly all abortions performed on women who receive Medicaid, Gallagher said. Thirty-two states require counseling prior to an abortion, and the same number limit public funding of abortions to cases of rape or incest, or situations in which a mother’s life is in danger.
“There are legislative attempts every year to remove funding from the budget (for Medicaid-funded abortions),” Gallagher said, noting that these past efforts have never made it through the Democratic-controlled Assembly.
NARAL Pro-Choice New York has said that it will try to help get Spitzer’s proposal passed by targeting moderate Senate Republicans; news reports have identified as one of its targets state Sen. Joseph Robach, R-Greece.
Yet the Catholic conference said Spitzer’s proposal also would block bills such as the unborn victims of violence bill Robach currently is cosponsoring. That bill would allow an unborn child at any stage of gestation to be considered a second victim when its mother is assaulted or murdered. The unborn victims of violence bill specifically states that it could not be applied to prosecute otherwise lawful abortions, acts of the mother or any other medical treatment that leads to the death or injury of an unborn child.
Unlike New York, Gallagher said, 34 states already have unborn victims of violence laws. The federal government also has an unborn victims of violence statute that covers certain federal crimes, she noted.
Spitzer’s proposal was released days after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Gonzales v. Carhart, in which the court upheld a federal ban on late-term procedures known as partial-birth abortions.
“Not only is the future of Roe v. Wade threatened (by the Gonzales v. Carhart ruling), but other cases that have protected a woman’s right to choose and her right to privacy could be in jeopardy as well,” New York’s first lady Silda Wall Spitzer said in introducing her husband’s bill during an April 25 speech to NARAL Pro-Choice New York.
In a speech to the pro-choice group a year ago, Spitzer pledged to make abortion rare. The measures he called for at the time included better access to family-planning services, better public-education programs, new programs to train doctors in reproductive-health services, expanded prenatal care, and measures to make adoption a quick and positive process. He also said that he supported legislation to allow employers to accommodate employees of faith. None of these initiatives are included in his latest proposal.
Gallagher, meanwhile, said Americans are expressing increasingly pro-life attitudes. She cited a March 2007 CBS News/New York Times poll that found 64 percent of Americans and 70 percent of young Americans believe abortion should be more strictly limited or not permitted at all.