Bishop William Murphy of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., spoke recently about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make abortion on demand, all the way up to birth, a "fundamental right" in New York state law.
Cuomo has tied his abortion expansion to a women’s-equality bill, but Bishop Murphy, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the other bishops in the New York State Catholic Conference warn that Cuomo’s plan could not only make New York the abortion capital of the world, but also force Catholic hospitals, institutions and licensed health-care providers to close their doors.
Bishop Murphy, please share with our readers your thoughts about Gov. Cuomo’s plans to expand legal abortion and the stakes for life, religious freedom and the Catholic Church in New York.
First, though, may I make a more philosophical observation? At the State of the State address, the governor introduced this as part of his "progressive agenda." When he addressed these plans, he became very outspoken. Three times he shouted to the crowd, "Because it’s her body; it’s her choice!" to thunderous applause. This is very disturbing. Thinking through what he is saying, whether he meant it or not, I am convinced that the governor is espousing a position that excludes God.
Second, it is a radical position that is a formula for the destruction of social relationships. Are we so sovereign over our individual bodies that God the Creator has nothing to do with how we use our bodies? How we respect them? How we care for them?
And in a society where everyone’s dominion over his or her body is so absolute, can we ever recognize that there are social relationships without which we cannot achieve a fully human flourishing? We become monads with no intrinsic mutual responsibility to help protect and build up human dignity.
This may seem abstract, but it illustrates what is happening: A false premise, absolute control over my body with no reference to God or neighbor, leaves us each isolated from one another and thus at risk in society. Thus the governor — and any governor or president or political leader — has to step in and arbitrarily define the legal expansion or limits of human actions and human activities.
What challenges do we Catholics face if Cuomo’s abortion agenda becomes law?
This bill is, of course, very important to all faithful Catholics. But I think we need to see it as a challenge not alone to Catholics, but a real threat to the good of society as a whole.
The acceptance of abortion in our society is one of the major factors in the overall coarsening of our contemporary American scene. There is an interconnectedness between abortion and the many other factors in society that are anti-human life: from gun violence to exploitation of women to the trivialization of sexuality and the social upheaval that same-sex "marriage" creates, etc.
What are the threats to human life and dignity in Cuomo’s women’s-equality agenda?
Specific to this proposal of the governor, we find more extreme threats, in the sense that we become a state where late-term abortions become part of a package of "women’s rights." This offers those who perform late-term abortions a new haven, in contrast to neighboring states, where there would remain some restrictions on their practice. Do we want that?
Do we also want a state where non-physicians may perform abortions?
We speak — and we must speak — about the protection of young people in a violent society. Does this really extend protection to the young woman who finds herself in an unplanned pregnancy and is being offered only abortion by an RN or an LPN? This is what I fear.
What happens is that these kinds of extreme positions create a society where the false premise of permitting the taking of human life demands more and more extreme legislation that has to cover more and more bizarre and tragic situations that flow from the fundamentally false premise that the taking of human life is now a "right."
How will Cuomo’s bill challenge the religious freedom of the Church and Catholic institutions?
This is, of course, a further blow at the freedom of religious practice and a further undermining of the principle of subsidiarity, which is under tremendous attack today. The role of regulatory agencies in place of the legislature is a great practical challenge on the state and federal level.
Practically, it could mean the [state’s] ability to revoke operating certificates or withhold Medicaid dollars from our hospitals, of which this diocese has six on Long Island. There is the risk that the government could extend its control by finding any of our ministries, schools, charities, etc. discriminatory because we cannot support or make references to people to exercise this new "right."
Programs that promote birth over abortion could be at risk. And, in keeping with my overall concern, it is another blow against a pro-life position, making that position officially "unacceptable" or "bigoted" or "intolerant," a very strange fruit in our society, where the majority of Americans, however they define it, call themselves pro-life.
What should Catholics be doing now to defeat Gov. Cuomo’s abortion expansion in New York?
First, we must educate our own people. The proponents, including the Nassau County district attorney, claim this simply "codifies" Roe v. Wade or existing state law. That is not true. It goes much further, both conceptually and concretely.
It moves us away from those kinds of commonsense restrictions that the majority (of people) who identify as pro-life indicate they prefer: parental notification, informed consent, waiting periods, limitations on late-term abortions and licensing of clinics.
"Pro-choice" politicians used to state they wanted abortion to be "safe, legal and rare." Even that slogan is outdated, with an obsession to ensure that abortion of every stripe, and at any moment, will be legal. I don’t think the majority of our political leaders want that. We Catholic bishops will do our best to inform our people and rally Catholics and non-Catholics alike to express a preference for laws that safeguard women and children, as well as the common good of society at large. A society can flourish only when it keeps before its eyes that God who creates and sustains it.
As a final comment, what would you hope happens in New York?
I want the best for our state and our people. The governor is a man of many gifts and talents. I pray he uses his considerable capacities in collaboration with the State Senate and Assembly to support the true good of our brothers and sisters, all of whom deserve to have their dignity respected, their rights upheld and their lives free from undue governmental interference.
I pray we might move in the opposite direction — toward a day when we all realize that abortion is the wrong choice for a woman, for her child, for our society and our world.
Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.