Posts Tagged ‘Abortion’

A Welcome, Disappointing Decision

Monday, June 30th, 2014

Pro-Lifers rarely win court cases, so it is very gratifying to win one in the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, even in victory, there is disappointment, and a sense that the constitutional rights of pro-life people have been relegated to second-class status.

The case was McCullen v. Coakley, and it arose out of a terrible Massachusetts law that established a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. Pro-lifers were prohibited from entering that zone, which effectively banned any attempt to speak to women seeking abortions (“sidewalk counseling”) completely. However — and this is crucial — abortion clinic staff were permitted to be in the zone and speak to the women who were approaching the clinic.

The Supreme Court, by a unanimous decision, found that the law was unconstitutional. However, the Court’s unanimity is actually deceiving — although all nine justices agreed that the law was invalid, the Court was actually split 5 to 4 on the reasoning. And the reasoning of the majority is very troubling.

One of the fundamental principles of the First Amendment guarantee of free speech is that the government cannot pass a law that is based on the content of a person’s speech, and that discriminates against one particular point of view. The principle is called “viewpoint neutrality”.  The majority found that the Massachusetts law did not violate the requirement of neutrality, but still found the law unconstitutional because it burdened speech more than was necessary to fulfill the government’s legitimate objectives.

But that reasoning is gravely flawed.  Take it out of the abortion context for a second. Consider the hypothetical case of a law that places a buffer zone around a mine entrance where there is a highly contentious strike taking place. Imagine that the law prohibits striking miners from being in that zone, but allows management employees to be in the zone and speak openly to strike-breaking workers seeking to enter the plant. Can anyone imagine a court upholding such an obviously biased law? Of course not — it would be a clear case of the government taking sides in a strike, and showing favoritism towards one point of view.

The Massachusetts statute is exactly the same, and is clearly not “viewpoint neutral”. It was specifically designed and intended to prosecute and deter only pro-life speakers, while giving pro-abortion speakers free reign to speak and act.

Nevertheless, the majority of the Court, led by the Chief Justice, implausibly concluded that the law was “viewpoint neutral”, because on its face it did not single out pro-life speech. This is absurd — everybody understands very clearly what the goal and effect of this law is.  As Justice Scalia stated in his concurring opinion,

The obvious purpose of the challenged portion of the Massachusetts Reproductive Health Care Facilities Act is to “protect” prospective clients of abortion clinics from having to hear abortion-opposing speech on public streets and sidewalks.

In short, although the Court unanimously struck down the law, there is only a minority of Justices who believe that pro-lifers deserve the full protection of the Constitution. This follows a disturbing trend in the Supreme Court, in which abortion distorts the Constitution — indeed, abortion corrupts everything it touches.

Again, to quote Justice Scalia:

Today’s opinion carries forward this Court’s practice of giving abortion-rights advocates a pass when it comes to suppressing the free-speech rights of their opponents. There is an entirely separate, abridged edition of the First Amendment applicable to speech against abortion.

So, while it’s good that we’ve won a big case, it’s clear that pro-lifers continue to be treated as second-class citizens in our courts.

 

Unsafe and Uncaring

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

It has long been suspected that the abortion industry in New York is essentially an unregulated operation.  There are some rules and regulations on the books that require certain minimal health and safety conditions at clinics, and requirements that clinics be licensed.  But up until now, it wasn’t known whether the government ever enforced these rules.

Now we know.  They don’t enforce them.  They obviously don’t care about health and safety inside abortion clinics.  It’s clearly an untouchable industry.

Last year, the Chiaroscuro Foundation, a staunch pro-life organization, filed Freedom of Information requests with the New York City and New York State Health Departments, asking them for information about inspections of abortion clinics in New York City.  The City Health Department immediately ducked, claiming that they have never done an inspection because, they claim, only the State has jurisdiction.

The State Health Department dragged their feet, and eventually the Chiaroscuro Foundation had to sue them to get access to the public records.  After much wrangling in court, the State produced some records, and what they contained was truly appalling.  Here’s how Chiaroscuro described it:

The New York State Health Department has failed to inspect the majority of the state’s estimated 225 abortion clinics and several of the clinics that have been inspected were cited for cringeworthy violations, according to Freedom of Information Law documents obtained by the Chiaroscuro Foundation.

Over the course of more than a decade, there were zero inspections of unlicensed clinics offering abortion services and of the state’s 25 licensed clinics, eight of those clinics were not inspected at all. A mere 45 inspections were conducted over that time period and no clinics were inspected on an annual basis.

The 17 clinics that did receive inspections revealed disturbing violations, including an Anesthesiologist cited for relying on a broken monitor to assess the patient’s vital signs, failure to ensure a registered professional nurse is present in the recovery room to monitor post-operative patients and unsanitary practices of reusing suction tubing for aspiration of human contents. The State Health Department has refused to disclose the names of the clinics who committed violations, making it impossible for women to know which clinics are sanitary and safe…

There were 1,145,261 abortions performed in New York City from 2000-2012 a total of 1,515,108 in New York State from 2000-2012.

Click on this link to the description of the actual inspection violations that were found, if you have a strong stomach.

Now think about this for a minute:

No inspections of unlicensed clinics in the last decade.  None.  

No routine annual inspections of any clinics.  None.

And only now, after a decade of neglect of their duties, a year after receiving the FOIL request, but within days of being publicly embarrassed in the New York Post, the State Health Department is finally scrambling to do inspections — but of only the licensed clinics.  The unlicensed places will continue to operate in the shadows with impunity.

And this is the state where the Governor wants to expand access to abortion?  Despite being right next door to the state where late-term abortionist Kermit Gosnell butchered women and children for years in an un-inspected clinic?  Seriously?

The old “pro-choice” mantra was “safe, legal and rare”.  They clearly don’t care about rare, and they clearly don’t care about safe.  But they sure care a lot about doing whatever it takes to make sure it’s “legal” — regardless of the risks to women and children.

Truth and the Governor’s Abortion Expansion Plan

Friday, March 21st, 2014

Catholics from around New York State made the trek to Albany on March 19, to join in the “Catholics at the Capital Day”.   One of the major that we went there to discuss was Governor Cuomo’s abortion expansion plan, which is part of a bill with the name, “Women’s Equality Act”.

Many of the participants in the day, when speaking with their “pro-choice” legislators, were accused of lying about the contents of the WEA.  Unsurprisingly, these ill-informed solons were just repeating the propaganda talking points put forward by the pro-abortion lobbying groups.

So it’s worth taking a few minutes to review the truthfulness of the two essential arguments that we are making about this bill:

The WEA would expand abortion

It is true that the expressed purpose of the abortion provisions in the “Women’s Equality Act” is to “protect a woman’s right to obtain an abortion…  as established in Roe v. Wade”.  But this bald statement is used by pro-abortion advocates to claim that the bill does nothing more than to “codify existing law”.

In fact, the Governor’s proposal is much more radical, and would expand abortion rights far beyond current federal and state law.

The fundamental reason for this is that Roe v. Wade is no longer the controlling federal constitutional standard on abortion.  The legal standard established in Roe was very liberal, and courts used it to strike down virtually every abortion regulation passed by state legislatures.  But as time went along, the Supreme Court backed away from the extremism of Roe, and eventually adopted a standard that permitted more leeway for states to regulate abortion.  This led to the 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which purported to retain the “central holding” of Roe, but which actually transformed the applicable legal standard in a way that made it somewhat more possible for states to regulate abortion successfully.

So if the goal is really to “codify” current federal constitutional law on abortion, a reference to Roe is completely misplaced.  This proposal would actually codify the high-water mark of liberal abortion law, and ignore the subsequent legal developments that have pared that standard back.  It would lock in place an abortion law that is extremely permissive and hostile to any attempt to regulate or restrict the practice in any way.

In addition, the proposal not only ignores the current constitutional standard, it also ignores other important developments that have already been codified in federal  law — like the Hyde Amendment (restrictions on public funding), the partial birth abortion ban, the criminalization of violence against unborn children (Lacy and Conner’s Law), and more robust conscience protections (like the Church Amendment and the Hyde-Weldon Amendment).

In fact, by appealing to the very liberal legal standard of Roe, the legislation sends a signal to the courts that they should strike down any reasonable regulation of abortion — like restrictions on public funding, a partial birth abortion ban, the criminalization of violence against unborn children, and robust conscience protections for medical practitioners who don’t want to participate in abortion.  It would make it difficult, if not impossible, to enact bills that enjoy wide public support in our state and across the nation — like restrictions on late-term abortions, health and safety regulations on abortion clinic , parental notification requirements and full informed consent provisions.

So this proposal cherry-picks existing federal law, selecting only the liberalized pro-abortion elements that the advocates want, and rejecting the reasonable pro-life elements that they consistently oppose whenever they appear.

By any standard, that’s an expansion of abortion.

The WEA permits non-doctors to do late-term abortions

A second major argument that we offer is that the bill would allow non-doctors to do surgical abortions, even up until the moment of birth.

The bill accomplishes this by repealing the current requirement that only doctors can perform abortions (a provision found in the Penal Law).  Instead, it would grant the Health Department broad authority permit anyone — even non-health professionals — to do abortions.  It would immunize any non-doctor abortionist from any criminal prosecution, for practicing medicine without a license, or any kind of professional misconduct action.

In other words, the Governor’s law would permit abortion with impunity for anyone who has the approval of the Health Department — whose highest officials are, naturally, appointed by this ardently “pro-choice” Governor.

It actually gets worse.  The bill would permit abortion of any child who is not “viable” for any reason, at any time in the pregnancy.  But this key term is completely undefined in the bill — it would be left entirely in the discretion of the abortionist to determine if a child is “viable” or not, with no legal standard to go by and no requirement that any other person (much less a trained doctor) concur with that determination.

Think about that for a second.  This bill would allow non-doctors, people with far less training and experience than physicians, to make their own decisions about whether a baby could survive outside the womb, and then to perform surgery to kill that child — even up to the moment of birth.

By the way, this is not just us making this claim.  Pro-abortion supporters  conceded on the floor of the Legislature last June that the bill would allow non-doctors to do abortions, and at least one influential legislator is writing to constituents that it is a major goal of the bill.

So what’s the truth about the WEA?

We already have over 100,000 abortions in New York State.  The great majority of them are performed on women who have had at least one previous abortion.  More African-American babies in New York are aborted than are allowed to be born.   37% of pregnancies in New York City end in abortion.

That’s the truth.  That’s the tragedy of abortion in New York.  And we need more truth, less tragedy.

Unity and Joy in Defense of Life

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

There are many graces and joys that come to those who are involved in the pro-life, pro-family cause.  One of these is the opportunity to meet and work with friends and allies in other Christian communities.

The March for Life is a great experience every year, with thousands of people of all faiths gathering with joy and dedication. The New Yorkers for Life coalition with our evangelical friends has been very effective. I’ve been blessed by my collaboration with Alliance Defending Freedom and Focus on the Family. It is truly enriching to stand together with our Christian brethren in unity and strength.

The other night, I had another one of these wonderful experiences. I was invited by my friend Chaplain Viviana Hernandez, to attend an event conducted by “Life Team”. This is an organization of interfaith clergy and laypeople, established by Chaplain Hernandez and Fr. Peter Pilsner in response to the abortion crisis in New York City, and the hostile policies of the City government. They have done great work building a body of committed Christians in the black and Latino communities, who are dedicated to rolling back the Culture of Death in our City.

The event took place at the Bethel Gospel Tabernacle in Jamaica, Queens. This is a serious Christian community, very dynamic and active, with an impressive leader in Bishop Roderick Caesar. The room was filled with members of their church and others who joined them. There was a great deal of praise and worship, and I found it very moving.

The talks were powerful. A pastor from Connecticut offered suggestions on how to speak to women who are heading into abortion clinics.  A young lady shared her incredible personal post-abortion witness, and outlined her commitment to the pro-life cause — including her participation in 2012 in a walk from Houston to Dallas as public witness to the cause of life. Pastor Beverly Caesar (Bishop Roderick’s wife) gave a powerful personal testimony and was very uplifting and encouraging. A young man sang a beautiful and touching song he specially composed to honor his own mother’s decision to choose life. Members of the community spoke of their commitment to oppose the abortion mentality that has afflicted the black community.  Plans for a new pregnancy resource center in the neighborhood were also discussed.

Confronting the Culture of Death can be very daunting and discouraging at times.  But the message of this evening was very clear.  The cause of human life is God’s cause, and He will lift us up in this struggle.  God’s love and mercy are always at the heart of all that we do, and we must find ways to welcome people into the heart of God, who will heal their wounds.  We are united in the Holy Spirit for this mission.

The Lord has said very clearly, “those who honor me I will honor” (1 Samuel 2:30).  I had the privilege of spending some time with a wonderful group of people who are honoring God by their commitment to the defense of human life.  I am confident that God will indeed honor them for their fidelity to His great cause.

 

Who Are the Real Extremists?

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

The Governor of the State of New York has an unfortunate tendency to engage in absolutist, take-no-prisoners political rhetoric.  Just a few years ago, he declared that anyone who opposed redefining marriage was “anti-New York and anti-American”.   So it really should be no surprise when his rhetoric gets out of hand, and shows a lack of respect for those who take opposing positions in good faith.

Nevertheless, the remarks he made the other day are particularly disturbing.  Commenting on some internal disputes among his Republican rivals, the Governor of all New Yorkers (even those who disagree with him) said this:

“Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.” (emphasis added)

I’m not a Republican, so it’s not for me to defend that party, or to get into the middle of an election-year political scrum.  But the Governor’s overheated language goes way beyond his political opponents.

Apparently our Governor thinks that there’s no place in our home state for anyone who believes that the laws should respect the right to life of all people, including the unborn, and who believe in the authentic definition of marriage.

But let’s ask ourselves — Who are the real extremists here?

It’s the public officials and the advocates who aren’t satisfied with New York being the abortion capital of America, a place with over 110,000 abortions each year.  It’s the people who oppose any reasonable regulations on abortion, including involving parents in decisions made by minors, full informed consent requirements, and so on.  It’s those  who want non-doctors to be able to perform abortions.  It’s the pro-abortion advocates who oppose health and safety regulations of clinics and who fight against any effort to inspect clinics.  It’s those people who want to redefine marriage and the family beyond recognition.   And it’s those who refuse to recognize faith-based objections, and slander those who stand on their faith for life and marriage.

This is not just a Catholic issue.  The Governor’s rhetoric encompasses the Catholic Church, but also the Orthodox Jewish community, the Evangelical Christian community, many mainline Protestant Churches and Muslims, and others of no religious faith at all.

It is deeply troubling when an elected official, who took an oath to uphold the Constitutions of our state and nation, casts out of polite society all those who disagree with him.  Remarks like these reflect not only a noxious political climate in our nation, but a deep-seated spiritual malady that St. Augustine called the libido dominandi, the lust to dominate and rule.

In an ironic way, it’s fortunate that the Governor made his unpleasant remarks in the midst of the U.S. Bishops’ “9 Days for Life” campaign of prayer, penance, and pilgrimage.  It’s a reminder that if we’re going to be “extremists” about anything, it should be in our prayer.  In particular, we can focus on the “9 Days for Life” prayer intention for tomorrow, the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision:

For an end to legal abortion in our nation and for the conversion of all hearts, so that the inherent rights of every human being—especially those most at risk of abuse and rejection—will be upheld.

Friday’s prayer intention is also particularly appropriate:

For elected leaders who oppose any restriction on the abortion license: may God allow them to grasp the brutal violence of abortion and the reality of post-abortion suffering experienced by countless women and men.

All of our society is enriched when people of faith bring their values into the public square, and nobody benefits when people are cast out of our political debate.  Let us pray for genuine tolerance, and for a conversion of heart so that our beloved state can show authentic respect for life and marriage.

[This blog post was reprinted in the New York Post as an op-ed]

 

What Shall We Do to Build a Culture of Life?

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

(I was invited this weekend to speak at all the Masses at St. Augustine’s Church in Ossining, one of our beautiful parishes, for Respect Life Month.  Here is the text of my talk.)

When St. John the Baptist moved among the people, he preached to them about the approach of the Messiah.  The people kept asking him the same question — “what shall we do?”  And now, all of us who are concerned about respect for life ask that same question.  “What shall we do?”

In 1985, in his encyclical letter, The Gospel of Life, Blessed Pope John Paul II addressed the threats that are so serious and widespread that they have created a virtual “culture of death”. We see this in violent crime, war, terrorism, torture, human trafficking, the drug trade, the arms trade, and abject poverty.  But at this time, abortion and euthanasia must be the focus of our attention here in the United States. They involve unjust attacks on people when they are most vulnerable and defenseless, and they are tolerated and even approved by our society as “rights”.

But it’s important to remember that we don’t just say “no” to things, we say “yes” to becoming a people of life and for life, and to building a new culture of life.

To make this more concrete, I would like to offer a number of practical ideas.

Our first task is speaking the truth about the sacredness of every human life – about how God loves every single human person, and that every human life has dignity from the moment of conception.  This is not just a principle of our faith — we rely on the basic scientific fact, available to everyone who has seen a sonogram or a video of “life in the womb”.  Human life – the life of each one of us, the life of Jesus himself in his human nature – began at conception, and carries on until our natural death, and then on into eternal life.  Every one of us, regardless of our age, disability or diminished “quality of life”, is always and forever a human person and must be treated with reverence.  Our first task is to speak this truth about the gift of human life – always with love.

The second task is prayer.  We must pray constantly, with determination, patience and trust.  We thank God for the gift of life, and we ask Him to protect all vulnerable lives.  We do this as individuals, and we also pray as a community.  For example, praying the Rosary as a group, participating in the National Night of Prayer Vigil every December, or holding a Holy Hour on the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ (the Annunciation), or inviting people to spiritually adopt unborn children and pray for them during their nine months in the womb (kids especially love this).  We also celebrate life when we have special Masses and blessings of engaged couples, expectant parents, or new families, or communal anointing of the elderly and ill.  Life is a great gift!  And we should celebrate that in our prayer.

The third task is to serve those in need, especially the most vulnerable.  For example, we help the elderly by visiting and offering companionship, or we offer expectant mothers alternatives to abortion.  There are many wonderful groups that do that, like Good Counsel Homes and the Sisters of Life.  We can help them by taking up collections (for example, a “baby bottle” campaign to collect small change), or by running baby showers for the new moms, or by volunteering to help with simple tasks, like driving the moms to doctors’ appointments.  Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has been emphasizing our duty as Christians to reach out personally  to the needy and those who seem lost in our society and without hope, and this is a beautiful way to promote and defend human life.

A particularly important way we serve others is through public policy advocacy. Last Spring, the New York State Legislature came very close to passing a bill that would have expanded abortion in our state.  We already have 110,000 abortions a year.  We don’t need any more abortion, we need more life!  But this bill would have allowed even more abortion by allowing non-doctors to do abortions, and removing the few remaining regulations on late-term abortions.  This bill was defeated because citizens raised their voices in opposition, by letter, call, email, participation in public witness and prayer rallies in Albany and locally.  The bill was defeated, but it will come back, and we have to be ready.

I’d like to take a moment to say a special word about how we can serve women and men who have experienced an abortion.  The Gospel of Life is a message of hope and mercy and healing.  Those who have experienced an abortion should never give in to discouragement and despair.  Our loving God is always ready to give forgiveness and peace in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The Sisters of Life run regular retreats for those who have experienced abortion, and other groups like Lumina provide support for the healing process.  Pope Francis has spoken movingly about the power of God’s mercy, and how we all can invite others to experience that mercy themselves.  There is always hope and healing available.

The most important way we build the culture of life is within our own families, where we welcome and nurture new life, and where we support, comfort, and defend our elderly and disabled loved ones.  Our families should be a school of life!  So, married couples should never stop working on our marriages.  Parents can never stop working on your relationship with your children, teach them how to live virtuous, chaste lives and about the value of every life.  In the end, strong families and marriages are the foundation of the culture of life.

Each and every one of us has a role to play in this mission given to us in the Gospel of Life.  So many people are doing so much already, and God bless you for that and thank you.  But every one of us can do something.  Please speak to members of your local pro-life committee, or check out the website of the Respect Life Office of the Archdiocese.

At the end of every Mass, we often hear the words, “Go, and announce the Gospel of the Lord”, or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life”.  These words don’t just mean that Mass is over – they also mean that we are being sent on a mission.  We are called — each one of us — to go back out into our regular lives and proclaim the Gospel of Life.

By bearing witness to the dignity of every human person.  By helping parents recognize that even though a pregnancy may be difficult or inconvenient, a child is always a blessing.  By ensuring that every young woman understands that there are alternatives to abortion, and that she will be given the help and support she needs.  By making certain that all of our elderly are protected against abandonment, and are always be loved and cared for.

And ultimately, our mission is to love, defend and serve all our brothers and sisters, from conception until natural death.  By our words and our deeds we can build a new culture of life in our land.  We ask the question, “What shall we do?”  And when, one day, we are asked by Our Lord, “What did you do?”, we will be able to answer, we were a people of life and for life, and Our Lord will be pleased with that answer, He will thank us, He will be proud of us, and He will receive us into eternal life with Him.

The Mask Comes Off

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

During the bruising battle last Spring over Governor Cuomo’s abortion expansion bill, we repeatedly argued that one of the intended goals of the proposal was to permit non-doctors to perform surgical abortions.  In response, we were routinely derided as being alarmist and accused of lying about the bill.  Even the most ardent supporters of the bill denied having any such intention, and denied that it would have that effect.

They were wrong, of course, because the bill clearly would have permitted non-doctors to do abortions.  In fact, one of its supporters finally admitted that on the floor of the Assembly.

But it says something that the pro-abortion people still felt a need to conceal their ultimate goals.

Well, in California, they recently enacted a law that would permit physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives to do chemical and surgical early abortions.  The ostensible reason for this law is to increase “access” to abortion, which they see as an inherent part of women’s “reproductive health”.

Yes, you read correctly that midwives would be doing abortions, even though the entire purpose of their profession is to assist in giving birth.  And yes, an abortion is seen as being part of “reproductive health”, even though it prevents reproduction and is hazardous to the health of both mother and child. Such is the twisted mindset of the anti-life ideology.

It says something about the state of things in California that the pro-abortion people don’t even feel a need to hide things any more.  They are comfortable with being open, up-front, and honest about their goals — they want abortion to be unsafe, extremely legal, and anything but rare, and they don’t mind at all that people know about it.

This is an important lesson on the impact of the Culture of Death.  When respect for life becomes so attenuated, and the desire to deal death becomes so routine, truth is inverted into lies, and lies become respectable.  It is a cautionary tale for all of us, since we will certainly see a renewed effort by the Governor and his allies to pass an abortion expansion law here in New York.

The Meanings of the Gosnell Verdict

Monday, May 13th, 2013

The Philadelphia abortionist, Kermit Gosnell, has now been convicted of multiple counts of murder. It is a sad testament to the disordered legal environment that prevails in America could a man who aborted viable babies every single day will only be held accountable to the law for a small fraction of the number of children whose lives he snuffed out so brutally.  It is equally bizarre that this man would now face the possibility of a death sentence as a penalty for these deaths that he caused (we pray that he will not be executed, so that he may have more time to come to repentance).

Many people are asking what is the significance of this verdict. I believe it has meaning far beyond this particular case.

It reveals the true nature of an industry whose product is death and heartbreak, masked by the duplicitous propaganda of “choice”. It indicts a profession that fails to rid itself of members whose practices are reminiscent of an ancient age of barbarism. It condemns the political and government mindset — not just in Philadelphia, but in other “liberal” areas like New York — so ideologically blinded in its devotion to sexual liberation without consequences that it ignores the duty to enforce rudimentary health and safety codes. It casts judgment upon a society so deeply steeped in the Culture of Death that it averts its eyes from the reality of abortion — thousands of lives snuffed out every day, others damaged physically or psychologically — until a grossly sensational story compels it to pay brief attention.

The verdict offers our wounded society a moment of painful self-awareness. It also holds out a chance to turn away from the path that leads to the Gosnell clinics around us, and enter instead the path of reason, compassion, love, and redemption. We must pray — and work — that our society chooses rightly.

Time for a Real Women’s Agenda

Monday, February 11th, 2013

I’ve already written a great deal about the Reproductive Health Act (see here, here and here), which has been proposed by the Governor as part of his “Women’s Equality Act”.

One thing that has unfortunately been lost in the debate over this abortion expansion bill is that many of the other parts of the Governor’s agenda are things that most New Yorkers — including the Church — would like to support.  Things like ensuring equal pay for equal work; expanding the ability to enforce laws against sexual harassment; strengthening laws against discrimination in employment and lending (particularly against pregnant women); strengthening and enforcing current laws against sex trafficking.

But by including the Reproductive Health Act in in the bill, the passage of other good women’s initiatives is being unnecessarily jeopardized.  We would like to see abortion taken off the table, so that the welfare of women can be addressed and promoted in a way that generates real consensus across the state.

The Church, and other pro-life people who work at places like pregnancy services centers,  have a great deal of experience working with vulnerable women, especially those who are struggling with a crisis pregnancy.  Based on this experience, we could propose some other items to include in a real women’s agenda.  These proposals would not endanger the lives of unborn women and leave their mothers with the emotional scars of abortion.  Instead, they would enhance the welfare of the women of our state, particularly by giving encouragement and support to make the life-affirming decision to carry their babies to birth:

  • Promoting adoption by mandating parental leave equal to that provided to birth parents, and providing tax deductions or tax credits to those who adopt. A public relations campaign to encourage adoption, particularly of children with special needs and those in foster care, would also be good.
  • Providing funding for alternatives to abortion, particularly for low-income women.  For years, the government-funded Maternity & Early Childhood Foundation has been doing that on a shoestring, and the Governor’s proposed budget would eliminate all funding for this Foundation.
  • Ensuring that women have all the relevant information before making an abortion decision — bills like the “Woman’s Right to Know Act” or a bill requiring a sonogram — and a waiting period to ensure that there’s enough time to reflect.
  • Prohibiting abortion for sex selection.  This practice particularly targets female children, and is the ultimate form of discrimination against women.
  • Strengthening and enforcing New York’s anti-obscenity laws. Women are the primary victims of pornography — they are objectified and demeaned by it, and many of the women in porn are coerced or raped.
  • Helping victims of domestic violence, by giving them unpaid leave of absence from jobs, ending housing discrimination, and strengthen orders of protection.
  • Passing an unborn victims of violence act, which would permit prosecution of domestic violence criminals who target children in the womb.
  • The Governor has some good ideas for woman that shouldn’t be held back by an abortion bill that goes too far and is out of step with what New Yorkers want.  Taking the Reproductive Health Act off the table would allow people of all beliefs to unite behind a real agenda for women.

    The Reproductive Health Act and Criminal Law

    Thursday, February 7th, 2013

    As part of our efforts to educate people about the Reproductive Health Act, we have been pointing out that the bill would remove any criminal penalties for a violent attack on an unborn child.  The bill’s supporters have been countering by saying that there would still be sufficient criminal sanctions available, if RHA is passed.

    Here’s why they’re reading the law wrong.

    Current New York law criminalizes a direct attack on an unborn child outside of the context of a doctor performing an abortion with the mother’s consent.  If the unborn child is over 24 weeks of gestation, this crime would be a felony punishable by up to seven years in prison; before that, it’s a felony punishable by up to four years in jail.

    Without these criminal abortion laws, there is no way to bring a prosecution for a direct attack on an unborn child.  The reason is that New York has a “born alive” rule, under which you can only be a victim of a crime — a “person” under the law — if you are born alive.  Before that, you aren’t a “person”.  Yes, it seems absurd, but that’s been the law for many years.

    If you want a more detailed legal explanation for how this plays out, here it is — if you don’t, you can skip the next paragraph.

    The basic problem stems from the nature of the assault and homicide statutes, and the required intent elements that must be proved, when taken together with the “born alive” rule.  The assault and homicide laws are “specific intent” laws — the prosecution must prove that the assailant had “intent to cause serious physical injury to another person”.  Since an unborn child is not a “person” within the meaning of the law, no assault that is intended to harm that child can be the basis of a prosecution.  Nor can the doctrine of “transferred intent” lead to a prosecution.  That principle holds that if a person intends to assault one victim, but harms another, they are liable for injuries to the second victim.  But the assault and homicide statutes specify that the injury must be caused to the intended victim “or to a third person”. Again, since an unborn child is not a “person”, the injury to the child cannot be the basis of a criminal charge under the theory of transferred intent.  Of course, there is always the possibility of bringing charges for any injuries caused to the mother — but those are separate and distinct from the offenses directed against the unborn child, which can only be brought under the criminal abortion statutes.

    The criminal abortion statutes are reasonable and necessary, and have a long history in our law.  By having this provision, New York law shows that it has a legitimate interest in protecting unborn life, which it will defend in criminal court.  This interest has been repeatedly recognized and upheld by the Supreme Court — even in the original Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion.

    These laws are especially important because deliberate attacks on an unborn child are frequently part of a domestic violence incident.  And, not every attack on the unborn child causes some kind of physical harm to the mother.  For example, an involuntary dose of RU-486 or emergency contraception might only cause harm to the unborn child, not to the mother, and thus could not be prosecuted at all if RHA is enacted.  Think of it — a man could slip a woman a dose of EC with the intent to kill their unborn child, yet he could completely escape prosecution.

    The result of all of this is clear — without the criminal abortion statutes (which would be repealed by RHA), an assault on an unborn child cannot be the basis of a criminal charge unless there is an independent injury to the mother.  And even then, the only victim whose rights would be defended would be the mother — the child would be merely a piece of evidence at trial, not a human being who had been victimized.

    The proper way to address this flaw in the current law is not to remove the abortion provisions from the Penal Law, as RHA would.  Instead, the Legislature should enact an Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would provide criminal penalties for assaults upon unborn children, regardless of the impact on the mother.  Thirty-six states and the federal government have these laws, and they have been upheld in the courts. The RHA may well prevent that law from ever being passed in New York State.

    The broader issue at stake here is the legal theory embodied in RHA — it treats the life and well-being of the unborn child as irrelevant, and asserts that the state is only concerned with maternal health.  This would completely abdicate the state’s legitimate interest in protecting unborn life — which has even been recognized by the Supreme Court.

    The RHA is focused solely on the mother and on ensuring her unlimited access to abortion.  The unborn child would have no legal rights, and no defense from assault, under RHA.