National Catholic Register


Catholic Vs. Clinton

N.Y. pro-lifer is long-shot candidate for U.S. Senate


Register Correspondent

October 29-November 4, 2006 Issue | Posted 10/25/06 at 9:00 AM


YONKERS, N.Y. — Of all the U.S. Senate races this year, John Spencer’s challenge to Hillary Clinton in New York could be the longest shot.

But Spencer is a Catholic who doesn’t try to downplay his opposition to abortion and same-sex “marriage.”

“John Spencer takes the ideal, conservative positions on family and morals,” said pro-life activist Christopher Slattery, of Yonkers, where Spencer was mayor from 1996 to 2003. “He has the values we need in the U.S. Senate. He is the complete opposite of Hillary Clinton, who has always voted pro-abortion.”

But Spencer is a relatively unknown political figure. “It would take a miracle for him to win,” Slattery said.

In the race, the former First Lady has completely avoided all controversial subjects. Spencer has directly spoken about all values issues.

Clinton’s massive funding and instant name recognition may allow her to coast to victory. Polls have generally shown her to have a 20- to 30-point lead over Spencer.

“Hillary Clinton has always been given a pass by the media,” said Spencer. “If she doesn’t answer the question, no one comes after her.”

But there are many questions that Catholic voters have — not all of which can be answered by Clinton’s well-honed website and speeches. A cursory glance through her website’s platform issues would seem to paint her as a moderate at best. Her website barely mentions her well-known support for abortion:

“I strongly believe that every child should be wanted, cherished and loved. For more than a decade I have worked to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, especially teen pregnancies, and to promote policies with the goal of making abortion safe, legal and rare.”

This does not specify that Clinton has been, in fact, a champion of the “pro-choice” movement for years. She is a major supporter of the most radical abortion-rights groups in the United States, and has voted against every piece of legislation that would curtail abortion to any degree.

Clinton has also noticeably softened her wording — though not her policies in recent months, calling abortion a “tragedy,” and stating that the pro-life and pro-abortion movements must find common ground. She has also increasingly mentioned the role of faith and prayer in her own life.

Her offices did not respond to questions in time for this article.

“She talks a great game about reducing abortions,” Slattery said. “But that is code for increasing the availability of contraception. This policy has been a complete failure.”

In fact, Clinton was instrumental in pressuring the Federal Drug Administration into making emergency contraception, or Plan B, available over the counter to women 18 and above.

“I don’t believe that spreading the ‘morning-after’ pill will reduce abortions,” said Slattery. “In Great Britain, it did not work to reduce abortions. This is another sad project that, unfortunately, many Republicans have bought into.”

Spencer — known for his tax cutting and improvement of services in Yonkers, New York State’s fourth largest city — explains his pro-life position as one that came naturally to him.

“Having been adopted and raised by a loving family, I do not believe in abortion,” said Spencer. “I think we should get back to being a culture of life.”

Spencer has been a personal contributor to local crisis pregnancy centers. When the National Abortion Federation tried to regulate how crisis pregnancy centers advertise themselves with the “Stop Deceptive Advertising in Women’s Services” Act, H.R. 5052, in March, Spencer immediately held a press conference with a local crisis pregnancy center.

“As mayor of Yonkers, he set up the first ‘safe haven’ in Westchester County,” said Elizabeth Rex, a Catholic activist in Yonkers. “This is a place where women in desperate situations could leave their newborns and not be prosecuted.”

Some Catholics may have qualms about voting for Spencer, who had an affair with his secretary and is remarried without an annulment. But not Slattery.

“I don’t want to be perceived as a person who is indifferent to infidelity,” said Slattery, “but I don’t necessarily think it means he would be a bad leader.”

“I’m Catholic and I’m divorced,” Spencer said. “I’m not perfect but I try. I still go to church on Sunday, but I don’t receive Communion.”

Barbara Meara, director of the New York State Right to Life Political Action Committee, said her organization has given Spencer its full endorsement.

“He rejects embryonic stem-cell research. He’s for parental notification. He’s against partial-birth abortion. He would try to reduce the funding that abortion gets in New York State,” she said. “He supports all our positions.”

Spencer is also plain-spoken about his belief that marriage should be defined as between one man and one woman. This is an area where Clinton, much to the annoyance of her supporters, has not been clear.

Clinton has publicly stated her support for the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that gives states the option of not recognizing another state’s same-sex “marriages” and prevents the federal government from recognizing them as well. She has stated that she would have voted for it had she been in Congress at the time.

She did, however, oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Her reasoning was that this was an issue best left to the states, and that the Constitution should not be amended to deny a “right.” Same-sex “marriage” advocates have been angered by Clinton’s refusal to specifically endorse their position.

Alan Van Capelle, executive director of the homosexual group Empire State Pride Agenda, called her a “complete disappointment” who “does not deserve an LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) fund-raiser.” The story was reported in the March 24, 2006 edition of the New York Observer’s “The Politicker.”

On immigration, Spencer would like to see a more orderly process.

“We should be a nation of laws,” he said. “Illegal people don’t live as citizens do. I know this as the former mayor of Yonkers. They live in fear. They’re abused by their landlords. They’re underpaid by their employers. They are not living with dignity and are not served well in those conditions. We need to have a process that helps them qualify for residency. We are a nation of immigrants, but it needs to be done properly.”

Clinton has worked to pass various bills that enable illegal immigrants to have better access to health care and education. She tried to pass a bill that would extend legal benefits to migrant farm workers, but this was blocked in the Senate. She has also supported legislation that provides resources to fortify U.S. borders.

Sabrina Arena Ferrisi writes from

Mamaroneck, New York.