Archive for the ‘Legislation’ Category

The Next Steps on the Mandate

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

The deadline for the implementation of the HHS contraception/abortion mandate is now upon us. As of August 1, religious organizations will have to compromise their consciences and comply, or apply to the government for an extension or exemption, or risk the penalties of non-compliance.

This deadline will probably have little direct and immediate impact on ordinary Catholics who already have health insurance from Medicare or a private employer. But for the Church, any danger of being forced to compromise with sin will do incalculable damage.  A number of Catholic institutions and dioceses are challenging the mandate in court, but those cases won’t be decided for quite some time.

In the meantime, here are some suggestions about what people can do at this point:

Prayer — This is, of course, our ultimate weapon. We need to pray for our nation; for our elected and appointed officials, for a conversion of heart; for our judges, for wisdom in applying the law to these cases; for those who will be affected by this mandate, that they will have the wisdom and courage to resist as best they can.  For some suggestions about prayer activities, see our webpage about the Fortnight for Freedom.

Advocate — There are significant legislative initiatives that would overturn the HHS mandate and protect our freedom of religion. First and foremost are the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act and the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act. These bills stand on their own, but they are also being attached to appropriations bills that are pending in the House of Representatives. if your Congressional representative is on the Appropriations Committee, please contact and urge them to keep conscience protection in the funding bill.

Support our Bishops — During this bruising political season, our bishops have been taking a beating in the media. They need our support and help, and it would lift their spirits if they heard from faithful Catholics, in support of their efforts to defend the freedom of the Church.

There is an old saying, often mis-attributed to Edmund Burke, but which is true regardless of who said it: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”

Don’t lose hope!  Throughout history, the Lord has stood by us in our hour of need, and assured us, as He did to Gideon, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).  Let us pray with confidence to Our Lady, Help of Christians, for the strength and constancy we need.

The Power of the Truth

Friday, May 4th, 2012

On April 30, I attended the public meeting of the Westchester Board of Legislators, to present the statement of the Archdiocese in opposition of the “clinic access” bill that would unfairly restrict the free speech rights of pro-life witnesses outside of abortion clinics.

That statement reads as follows:

A bill is now pending before the Westchester Board of Legislators, which will violate the Constitutional rights of those who give pro-life witness outside abortion clinics.

We urgently call upon all members of the Board to oppose this unjust bill.

This bill is premised upon the false assumption that there is a significant problem with disorder outside of abortion clinics. Actually, law-abiding citizens give peaceful and prayerful pro-life witness on a regular basis, offering valuable information to women approaching the clinics without violating any of the currently-existing federal and state laws regarding access to abortion clinics. Despite such a clear record of respect for the law, this legislation is designed to prevent pro-life advocates from speaking freely merely because their speech is considered unwelcome by some powerful interest groups that favor and profit from abortion.

This legislation is fundamentally unfair to ordinary citizens who wish to express their Constitutional rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. It is vague and ambiguous so that ordinary people could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  Ultimately, it is unfair to women who have a right to information before they make their decision
as to whether or not to have an abortion.

This legislation does a disservice to these women, to their unborn children, and to society as a whole, and should therefore be rejected.

I have been present at many legislative hearings, and I generally have low expectations.  We have to bear in mind that most legislative hearings are not like court proceedings — it’s not like arguing to a neutral jury or a judge who’s open to hearing both sides.  The legislators have largely made up their minds already.  But in some cases, hearings are a good place for the public airing of reasons for and against legislation, and some legislators may actually listen to what is being said.  Some of them are looking for a reason to take a position on a bill, and the hearing may give them that hook to hang their hat on.  I have been to several hearings where there was good interaction between legislators and witnesses.  Not many, but a few.

In a way, it’s not so much what is said by the witnesses, but their presence and witness — so that the hearing becomes an indicator to the legislators of the depth of feeling about bills and a gauge of the political mood of the populace.

In that light, the hearing was fairly typical of what I’ve experienced.  The public witness of so many pro-lifers was a good sign — it sent a message to our allies on the Board that they have a lot of support, and hopefully gave some of the wavering members some reason to lean our way.  Having so many “regular people” on our side — as opposed to the largely institutional witnesses on the other side (e.g., employees and activists from Planned Parenthood) — was a very good thing.  I think that the legislators are more impressed when lots of people testify who don’t make a living out of the issue at hand.  Five voters count for a lot more than one “spokesman”.

The most powerful testimony was given by a young African-American woman, who spoke of her own abortions, and how she has come to regret them.  She has now dedicated herself to going to abortion clinics, and giving sidewalk counseling to other women contemplating abortion, to make sure that they understand that they have a choice.

But there were so many others, who stood outside on long lines in the cold, awaiting an opportunity to come into the legislative chamber.  The hearing went on until after midnight, and many stayed until the wee hours to present their own testimony.

The struggle against this bill is not over.  A final vote will be taken on May 7.  We are hoping that the County Executive will veto the bill, and that there will be enough votes on the Board to sustain the veto.  Residents of Westchester should contact their legislators — even if they’ve done so already, they should do it again, and again, and again.  To find the name of your legislator, go here.  Email and other contact information can be found here. The most effective advocacy comes from sustained contact between constituents and their legislators over a long period of time — visits, calls, emails, etc.

So often, we feel powerless in the face of the large, powerful and rich forces that are arrayed against us.

But the power of the truth, and the witness of those who are willing to testify to it with love, can never be underestimated.

Another Threat to Freedom

Friday, April 27th, 2012

On April 30, the Westchester County Board of Legislators will vote on a “Clinic Access Bill”.  This kind of legislation is a persistent feature of pro-abortion advocacy.  It is designed to chill the free speech and assembly rights of pro-lifers who pray and witness outside of abortion clinics.  Since the pro-abortion forces can’t bear the possibility that women might choose against abortion, they aim to silence us by passing vague laws that are designed to intimidate pro-lifers into silence out of fear of arbitrary prosecution and punitive lawsuits.

The Archdiocese issued a strong statement against this bill last fall.  Many pro-lifers and lovers of freedom will attend the Board hearing on Monday, to urge the legislators not to give in to the well-funded pressure from the abortion industry.  I will attend too, and deliver the following remarks.  Please pray for us.

My name is Edward Mechmann. I am the Assistant Director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese of New York, and a resident of Westchester County.  I submit this statement in opposition to the proposed legislation concerning access to so-called “reproductive health care facilities”.

First, the proposed changes to the law are unnecessary.  There is no evidence that there is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed by this bill.  According to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there has been only one arrest in the entire state since 2000 for violations of the State clinic access law, and no criminal convictions. There is no need to strengthen laws that are never used, since there is no problem that needs to be addressed.

The second reason for our opposition to this bill is that  it is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.  It is a established principle of constitutional law that any attempted regulation of speech be content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest.  This is particularly true when the speech occurs on a public sidewalk, which has been described by the Supreme Court as a “public forum” where citizens generally have a First Amendment right to speak and gather together.  This bill fails to satisfy this standard, and creates a significant risk that people would be prosecuted or sued for the mere exercise of their right to free speech and assembly.

This bill is not neutral, because it specifically targets the conduct and speech of those who oppose abortion.  It is also vague and ambiguous, so that persons could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  One of the provisions would make it a crime to “interfere” with the operations of “reproductive health care facilities”.  Yet that term is undefined and utterly subjective in meaning, and would thus chill the free speech and assembly rights of those who wish to speak to women seeking to enter those facilities.

Another provision of the bill would create a protected zone that includes “any public parking lot” within 200 feet of the clinic, as long as it “serves” the clinic. These terms are undefined and hopelessly ambiguous.  For example, what does it mean for a parking lot to “serve” a clinic, and how can that be determined?  There is no test clearly defined in the statute.  The result will inevitably be arbitrary and selective enforcement, and the chilling of free speech and assembly rights.

This unnecessary bill is clearly aimed at suppressing the rights of those who oppose abortion, because that speech is disfavored by the owners and operators of abortion businesses.  This discriminatory legislation dishonors the constitutional rights of pro-life citizens, and robs women of an opportunity to hear the truth about abortion.

It should be rejected.

Another Attempt to Silence Pro-Lifers

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

A bill is pending before the Westchester County Board of Legislators that is designed to silence pro-life witness outside of abortion clinics.  It is similar to the bill that was passed by New York City a few years ago, about which I wrote here and here.  The bill hasn’t yet been voted on, but it remains a significant risk.

Here is the statement that I submitted to the Board, at its hearing last night:

I submit this statement in opposition to the proposed legislation concerning access to so-called “reproductive health care facilities”.

First, the proposed changes to the law are unnecessary.  There is no evidence that there is a substantial problem that needs to be addressed by this bill.  According to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, there has been only one arrest in the entire state since 2000 for violations of the State clinic access law, and no criminal convictions. There is no need to strengthen laws that are never used, since there is no problem that needs to be addressed.

The second reason for our opposition to this bill is that  it is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague.  It is a established principle of constitutional law that any attempted regulation of speech be content-neutral, and narrowly tailored to meet a compelling state interest.  This is particularly true when the speech occurs on a public sidewalk, which has been described by the Supreme Court as a “public forum” where citizens generally have a First Amendment right to speak and gather together.  This bill fails to satisfy this standard, and creates a significant risk that people would be prosecuted or sued for the mere exercise of their right to free speech and assembly.

This bill is not neutral, because it specifically targets the conduct and speech of those who oppose abortion.  It is also vague and ambiguous, so that persons could not possibly know what kinds of behavior or speech are prohibited.  One of the provisions would make it a crime to “interfere” with the operations of “reproductive health care facilities”.  Yet that term is undefined and utterly subjective in meaning, and would thus chill the free speech rights of those who wish to speak to women seeking to enter those facilities.

Even if one were to ignore the lack of any history of problems at these facilities and assume that there was a “compelling state interest” here, this bill cannot be fairly described as “narrowly tailored”.  The bill would create a zone that goes far beyond any statute that has been approved by the courts.  No law has included such areas as public parking lots and bus stops that are within 200 feet of a facility, and created a large “bubble zone” around the “spaces” — whatever that term means — between those locations and the facility.  There can be no justification for such a broad zone where the free speech rights of citizens will be restricted.

This unnecessary bill is clearly aimed at suppressing speech, because that speech is disfavored by the owners and operators of abortion clinics.  This discriminatory legislation should be rejected.

Varia

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • Must read of the week:  Americans United for Life’s exhaustive report on Planned Parenthood.   The Executive Summary provides the basic narrative, the full report has all the details.
  • Stats on late-term abortions in the UK show that it is being used in a eugenic way, to eliminate disabled persons.
  • More proof that human life as a disposable commodity — women in the UK, pregnant due to IVF, are having abortions because they’ve changed their minds.
  • The madness of sex selection continues in India, with baby girls being subjected to sex change operations.
  • Scholar Brad Wilcox punctures the bubble of those who think that “open marriages” are a great idea.  Why would we ever want to go back to the ’70′s?
  • Yet our narcissistic culture, having learned nothing, now brings us the inevitable lawsuit seeking to legalize polygamy.  If same-sex “marriage” is inevitable, then why not anything else?
  • An Illinois court stops the state from terminating Catholic Charities adoption and foster care services due to the civil unions law.
  • Here’s some background on the series of lies that led to the passage of the Illinois civil unions bill, particularly the lies about how it would affect religious institutions.  And every major public official in that state is a Catholic.
  • Lessons learned about the secularization of Catholic universities, thanks to the NLRB ruling that Manhattan College is no longer a church-operated institution.  A lesson worth bearing in mind as more and more Catholic institutions and schools come under the leadership of lay boards with little or no connection to the Church.  It’s all about Catholic identity and mission.
  • Beautiful story of the current record-holder for the world’s most premature baby (21 weeks, 5 days, 1.01 pounds).
  • (Please note that these links will take you to websites that are not affiliated with the Archdiocese.  We neither take responsibility for nor endorse the contents of the websites.)

    Why Not “Civil Unions”?

    Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

    As the debate over same-sex “marriage” heats up in New York, you occasionally hear legislators say that they oppose same-sex “marriage” but are in favor of “civil unions”.  This is an effort to appear reasonable, and open to compromise, which is certainly laudable.  The problem us, the term “civil unions” doesn’t mean what they think it means.

    When most people use the term “civil unions”, they mean some kind of legal arrangement that grants rights to same-sex couples, like hospital visitation, inheritance rights, insurance eligibility, etc., without putting that relationship on the same legal plane as marriage.

    The problem is, that’s not what the term “civil unions” actually means.  It means the same thing as same-sex “marriage”.

    Bills that recognize “civil unions” grant them all the same rights and privileges of marriage.  The “civil unions” bill that was passed in New Jersey, for example, specifically states that any provision of law that deals with marriage, spouses, etc., must be read to include “civil unions” and those who enter into them.  The “civil unions” bill introduced in Rhode Island today does exactly the same thing. The legal difference between “marriage” and “civil unions” is absolutely nothing — it’s just the name.

    So, all the statutes that prohibit discrimination based on “marital status” would have to be read to prohibit discrimination against those in “civil unions”.  In fact, the case that led to the New Jersey Methodist organization being stripped of its tax exempt status wasn’t based on their refusal to recognize a “marriage”, but their refusal to recognize a “civil union” — which the courts treated as the same thing as a marriage.

    It’s also well known that same-sex “marriage” advocates have used “civil unions” laws as a step towards the judicial imposition of same-sex “marriage” .  The argument they make is that granting the rights of marriage, but denying the term “marriage”, is invidious discrimination in violation of the Equal Protection Clause (or its state equivalent).  That was precisely the approach that was successfully used in Connecticut to impose same-sex “marriage” by judicial fiat.  That same argument is being made in court in New Jersey.

    The reality also is that “civil unions” are not on the table in the New York State Legislature.  To my knowledge, a “civil unions” bill has never been introduced in the Legislature, and nobody has said that they are interested in doing so.  Indeed, same-sex “marriage” advocates frequently say that they don’t want “civil unions”.

    The choice in the Legislature is not “civil unions” versus same-sex “marriage”.  It’s all about re-defining marriage.

    Varia

    Sunday, March 27th, 2011

    The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • Two lawsuits have now been filed challenging NYC’s crisis pregnancy center law:  here and here.
  • Pro-lifers continue to make progress in state legislaturesSouth Dakota enacts a 72-hour waiting period that also requires a woman to receive counseling about alternatives, and Arizona moves forward on a ban on sex- and race-selection abortions.  New York, clueless as always, continues to mire in the Culture of Death.
  • A UN report shows that changing sexual attitudes and behavior — particularly reducing promiscuity and adultery — actually does reduce HIV transmission, as evidenced by the experience of Zimbabwe.  Apologies to the Holy Father (who was pilloried in the press for pointing this out) will no doubt be forthcoming.
  • The real (i.e., eugenic) effects of pre-natal testing can be found in the abortion rate for handicapped children.
  • When Illinois’ civil unions bill was being considered, Cardinal George warned that it would threaten Catholic programs, and was derided for it. Well, what do you know — he was right, and Catholic Charities will probably be forced out of the foster care field: .
  • Bishop Tobin of Providence calls for an end to “Catholic apathy” on the defense of marriage, and strongly denounces efforts to legalize same-sex “marriage”.
  • The Vatican is investing in a company that specializes in adult stem cell research.
  • There are substantial concerns about the new Irish coalition government, and its policies on life and marriage.
  • Scholars crunch the numbers and find that Christians who attend church actually divorce less often than those who don’t.
  • A very nice profile of Maria McFadden Maffucci, editor of the indispensable Human Life Review. She denies it, but she really is a pro-life “hero”.
  • (Please note that these links will take you to websites that are not affiliated with the Archdiocese.  We neither take responsibility for nor endorse the contents of the websites.)

    Varia

    Sunday, January 30th, 2011

    The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • Try to imagine a world without abortion, and what it would be like.  Can we go there please?
  • Our 100% pro-abortion President lauds the anniversary of the iniquitous legal usurpation that permitted the destruction of an entire class of human beings.
  • Meanwhile, the Catholic pro-life Speaker of the House has a different perspective on the anniversary, and has plans to do something about it.
  • The Newsletter of the Cult of Moloch, er, I mean the Times, publishes a snide opinion piece about the abortion rate in NYC that winds up with a sympathetic look at a late-term abortionist.  All the callous indifference of the Culture of Death that’s fit to print.
  • Anti-euthanasia hero Wesley Smith warns us of the looming threat of health care rationing.
  • Kathryn Jean Lopez suggests a nice target for the Tea Party — cutting abortion funding in the federal budget.  Proving her point, an obscure change in the Medicaid rules will produce greater “access” (i.e., government spending) for contraceptives, which will inevitably lead to more abortions.
  • Sobering summary of the true costs of egg donation on women and on the human beings in embryonic stage who are lost in the process.
  • This is how it is in modern Ireland — Franciscans of the Renewal friars pray outside of a “family planning” center, are vilified on the radio as a result.  How does that go, “Blessed are those who are persecuted…”?
  • It’s pretty well established that divorce is bad for kids. Yet another study shows that it’s worse for boys than girls.  So what does our state do? That’s right — it passes a “no-fault” divorce law last year, which makes divorce easier, with no regard to the best interests of children.
  • This is really neat — a time-lapsed video of the March for Life.
  • (Please note that these links will take you to websites that are not affiliated with the Archdiocese.  We neither take responsibility for nor endorse the contents of the websites.)

    A Major Pro-Life Victory

    Saturday, January 29th, 2011

    In Friday, January 28, a Federal District Court Judge in Maryland issued a decision that is a major victory for pro-lifers and for free speech rights.

    The case involved an ordinance passed by the City of Baltimore that was aimed at silencing and, ultimately, closing down pro-life pregnancy support centers.  The basic structure of the Baltimore law was to require pregnancy centers to post signs proclaiming that they did not make referrals for abortion or contraception.  The centers, backed by the Archdiocese of Baltimore, fought back, arguing that this requirement violated their free speech rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

    In the ruling, the District Court completely agreed with the pregnancy centers and issued a permanent injunction, barring any enforcement of the law.  The decision made some important points about these kinds of laws:

  • Compelled Speech — At the heart of the right to free speech is the right to be free of compulsion to say things that are contrary to your beliefs.  This means that the government cannot force you to say things because they disagree with your position on issues.  The court found that the Baltimore law violated this basic principle of Constitutional Law, because it forced the pregnancy centers, under pain of fines, to say things about abortion and contraception that they would not otherwise say.
  • Lack of Viewpoint Neutrality — Also central to the First Amendment is the idea that the government may not use its power to take sides in a debate between people who disagree, favoring one side over the other by imposing penalties on the “disfavored” position.  The court also held that the Baltimore law failed this test, because the sign requirement was imposed only on those centers that opposed abortion.
  • Bogus Factual Premise — To enact a law that infringes upon someone’s First Amendment rights, the government must show that there is a compelling state interest.  The alleged interest behind these laws is the notion, promoted by abortion proponents, that pregnancy centers routinely lie and distort facts.  The court found that the Baltimore law failed this test too, because the pro-abortion side had failed to present any convincing evidence of systematic deceptive practices that could not be addressed by other means (e.g., false advertising laws).
  • This court victory is not just significant for Baltimore, but for all pro-lifers across the nation, particularly here in New York.  That Baltimore law was part of a nation-wide strategy by pro-abortion forces and the abortion industry.  We are currently facing a similar bill here in the New York City Council, Intro 371.

    The essential structure and premise of New York’s Intro 371 is identical to the Baltimore law:  sign and disclaimer requirements compelling speech by pregnancy centers that do not promote abortion, a lack of viewpoint neutrality that is designed to “disfavor” only those centers that do not promote abortion, and a complete lack of any proof that there is a pattern of systematic — or any — deception being practiced by these centers here in New York.

    And so, the Federal District Court has posed a serious question to the New York City Council:  Will you persist in passing a law that you now know to be unconstitutional?

    Varia

    Friday, December 3rd, 2010

    The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which  I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):

  • The Holy Father conducted the first-ever world-wide Vigil for All Nascent Human Life.  Here’s an early, unofficial translation of the homily.  And here’s an unofficial translation of the special prayer written by the Holy Father for the Vigil.
  • Opponents of same-sex “marriage” — like the Family Research Council and the National Organization for Marriage — have now been labeled as “hate groups” by a prominent advocacy group.  The “sit down and shut up” phase of the debate over marriage continues.  Next will come prosecutions for “hate crimes” and “human rights” violations, based solely on politically-incorrect speech.  Oh, wait — that’s happening already in Mexico.
  • Maggie Gallagher and Robert George respond to having pro-marriage organizations — and traditional Christianity — branded as “hate groups”.
  • The indispensible Kathryn Jean Lopez puts the Holy Father’s condom and sex comments in the context of the importance of marriage and true human sexuality and interviews Fr. Robert Williams and sheds some clear light on the Holy Father’s condom comments.
  • More good news on the stem cell front.  A child has been fully cured from leukemia thanks to treatment by adult stem cells from umbilical cords.  And scientists have “tricked” cells to convert from one kind to another, which may make stem cell research unnecessary.  Reaction from the media:       .
  • The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (and Abortionists) is once again trying to force doctors to refer or perform abortions, under the rubric of “professional ethics”.  Hence the need for a federal comprehensive conscience protection statute.  GOP leaders, are you listening?
  • I’m a Mac, iPod and iTunes user, so it’s nice to know that in return for all the money I’ve given them, the Apple Corporation thinks I’m a bigot, merely because I subscribe to the principles in the Manhattan Declaration.  For a reminder of what’s in this “hate speech” declaration (which is all about defending life, marriage, and religious liberty), go here.  While you’re there, join over 34,000 others in signing the petition protesting Apple’s intolerance.
  • It has become ever more clear that the Administration is failing in its duty to defend the Defense of Marriage Act from attack by same-sex “marriage” advocates.
  • The perfect proof that reproductive medicine treats human life as a commodity:  they’re putting bar codes on IVF embryos.
  • A terrible story about the modern sex slave trade, right here in New York City.  Why is this not a high priority for law enforcement?
  • Interesting how the Times buries a story about how Cardinal Ratzinger tried, as far back as 1988, to streamline the procedures to punish abusive priests.  No room for the story on the front page, where they’ve previously put the “exposes”, although they manage to squeeze in a story about obesity surgery.  It’s not so newsworthy if it’s favorable to the Holy Father, I guess.
  • The Bishop of Springfield, Illinois, publicly rebukes the Catholic governor for his comments that his faith impels him to sign a bill legalizing same-sex “civil unions”.  The governor replies, in classic modern fashion, “I follow my conscience. I think everyone should do that. I think that’s the most important thing to do in life, and my conscience is not kicking me in the shins today.”  He needs a new, authentically Catholic conscience.
  • When the world throws God out the window, there’s no stopping the descent into madness.  A “family law expert” in the UK says that sex offenders should be allowed to work with children, and even adopt or serve as foster parents.  As the Safe Environment Director of the Archdiocese, all I can say is, “over my dead body”.