Bishops Speak Out Against New York’s Expansive New Abortion Law

Shepherds react: ‘Our beloved state has become a more dangerous one for women and their unborn babies.’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Cardinal Timothy Dolan attend the Columbus Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan Oct. 8, 2018.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Cardinal Timothy Dolan attend the Columbus Day Parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan Oct. 8, 2018. (photo: lev radin /

ALBANY, N.Y. — Catholic leaders in New York have spoken out against the passage of an expansive new abortion law in the state. The Reproductive Health Act was passed on Tuesday, the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade.

In a statement from the New York State Catholic Conference (NYSCC), the state’s bishops called the passage of the law a new “sad chapter” on a date that already carried tragic associations for supporters of life.

The New York State Senate voted 38 to 24 to bring the act into law after a 12-year legislative battle.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Catholic, said earlier this month that he would sign the legislation if it were to be passed and that he hopes to add abortion rights to the state’s constitution. This process could begin next year.

The bill was passed on the anniversary of the 1973 decision that found a woman had a legal right to receive abortion in the United States.

“Our beloved state has become a more dangerous one for women and their unborn babies,” read a statement from the NYSCC.

The act codified into law the finding of Roe v. Wade, meaning that abortion would remain legal in New York even if the case were to be overturned by the Supreme Court.

While the law officially limits abortion to the first 24-weeks gestation, abortion is permitted at a later gestational age for reasons related to the well-being of the mother. Additionally, the bill removes the act of abortion from the criminal code, and instead places it in the public-health code, and strips most safeguards and regulations on the procedure. Non-doctors will now be permitted to perform abortions.

Writing on his official blog on the eve of the bill’s passage, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York said bishops are not supposed to be “politicians or culture warriors,” but said that the new law was an affront to the rights of the most vulnerable.

“If our governor, senate and assembly has their way, abortion will be legal up to the moment of birth; those large numbers of health care professionals who find the termination of pre-born babies repugnant will have no conscience rights to object; trained physicians will be not be required to perform the dismemberment; and a baby who survives the scalpel, saline or suction, and is still alive can be left to die without any care.”

“This is ‘progressive’?” Cardinal Dolan asked.

“All people have rights:  the immigrant, the poor, the pregnant woman … and her baby. All God’s children, Rev. [Martin Luther] King would insist, are equal and have rights,” the cardinal concluded, recalling the recent observance of Dr. Martin Luther King Day.

In a statement published on the state website, Cuomo called the signing a “historic victory for New Yorkers,” adding that, “in the face of a federal government intent on rolling back Roe v. Wade and women’s reproductive rights, I promised that we would enact this critical legislation within the first 30 days of the new session — and we got it done.”

Cuomo said that he hopes other states will follow in New York’s lead and pass similar legislation.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany questioned if supporting and signing this law could impact Cuomo’s standing in the Catholic Church and his ability to receive Communion. “This legislation threatens to rupture the communion between the Catholic faith and those who support the RHA, even while professing to follow the Church, something that troubles me greatly as a pastor,” wrote Bishop Scharfenberger.

In an open letter to the governor, Bishop Scharfenberger highlighted Cuomo’s apparent inconsistencies when referencing his Catholic faith.

“Although in your recent State of the State address you cited your Catholic faith and said we should ‘stand with Pope Francis,’ your advocacy of extreme abortion legislation is completely contrary to the teachings of our pope and our Church,” Scharfenberger wrote.

New York was the first state to legalize abortion, and it did so in 1970. It currently has the highest abortion rate in the country. In 2019, the organization Americans United for Life ranked New York 43rd on its annual ranking of pro-life states.

The bishops also requested prayers not only “for the conversion of heart for those who celebrate this tragic moment in the history of our state,” but also for “the lives that will be lost and for the women of our state who are made less safe under this law.”

There were many “celebrations” throughout the state after the law was passed. In addition to the loud cheering in the Senate chamber after the vote, One World Trade Center and other landmarks around the state were lit up in bright pink to “celebrate” the law.

In Albany, meanwhile, next to the Executive Mansion where the bill was signed, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception tolled its bells in pre-emptive mourning for the unborn lives that will be lost.

“As a society, we can and must do better,” Bishop Scharfenberger said.

“The teaching and intuition of our common faith readies us to help. It is an essential part of our mission to support the lives of all, especially the voiceless, the most vulnerable and marginalized, as Pope Francis always reminds us to do.”

Caravaggio, “The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” c. 1601

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