Posts Tagged ‘New York State Catholic Conference’

Why “Make Abortion Rare”?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

On March 8, Catholics from around the state traveled to Albany for the annual “Catholics at the Capitol” day, sponsored by the State Bishops’ Conference.  The purpose of the day is to offer Catholics an opportunity to stand together on the broad range of issues of concern to us — protecting life, strengthening our schools, caring for the poor and sick — and to speak to our state legislators.

One of the issue papers distributed by the Conference was entitled “Making Abortion Rare”.  This document explained our Church’s opposition to the radical Reproductive Health Act, a bill that would lead to an increase in abortion, by placing it beyond any reasonable regulation.  A second issue was our opposition to the Governor’s elimination of all funding for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation.  That foundation supports local initiatives and organizations that offer alternatives to abortions, and have helped thousands of women have their babies.

These positions are a practical response to the challenge issued by Archbishop Dolan at his press conference in January about the appalling abortion rate in New York City: “I invite all to come together to make abortion rare, a goal even those who work to expand the abortion license tell us they share.”

Some of our pro-life supporters have expressed discomfort with saying that we wish to “make abortion rare”.  They are worried that this might imply that we are conceding the legality of abortion, and that we have given up our ultimate goal of defending every human life.

This concern is understandable, because people rightly can’t be satisfied with anything short of full protection for the unborn.  I understand this concern, but I believe it is unfounded.

Our ultimate goals in this struggle have never changed.  Nobody has any doubt about the position of the Catholic Church on abortion.  We are absolutely, unalterably, irrevocably opposed to legal abortion, and will never accept the legitimacy of laws that permit it.  We hold steadfastly to building a culture of life in which every life is valued in our society and its laws.

But while we pursue those ultimate goals, we have to take into account the political and cultural situation in which we find ourselves.  Then, relying on the virtue of prudence, we have to mitigate the harm that is being done by legalized abortion, and try to achieve realistically attainable results to advance the culture of life.

This approach was outlined in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, The Gospel of Life:

The Church well knows that it is difficult to mount an effective legal defense of life in pluralistic democracies, because of the presence of strong cultural currents with differing outlooks. At the same time, certain that moral truth cannot fail to make its presence deeply felt in every conscience, the Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in the defense and promotion of the value of life. (90)

The challenge to “make abortion rare” is just such an initiative.  It takes into account the political and cultural fact that a complete abrogation of abortion laws is not attainable in our current cultural and legal climate.  It is directed not to people who are already committed to the cause of life.  Instead, it is an appeal to those who consider themselves “pro-choice”, but are uncomfortable with abortion and may be open to work with us on practical measures to reduce it.

In other words, it is an effort to change hearts, to rebuild the foundation for a true culture of life.  As hearts change, laws will follow.

Our vision and our goals will always remain the same.   As the United States Bishops said in their statement, Living the Gospel of Life:

The Gospel of Life must be proclaimed, and human life defended, in all places and all times. The arena for moral responsibility includes not only the halls of government, but the voting booth as well. Laws that permit abortion, euthanasia and assisted suicide are profoundly unjust, and we should work peacefully and tirelessly to oppose and change them. Because they are unjust they cannot bind citizens in conscience, be supported, acquiesced in, or recognized as valid. Our nation cannot countenance the continued existence in our society of such fundamental violations of human rights. (33)

The First Principle is God

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

On Tuesday, over a thousand Catholics from across the state traveled to Albany for the annual Catholic Conference Public Policy Forum Day.  The goal of the day is to give witness to our faith in the public square, and to advocate for some important issues of concern to the Church and to individual Catholics.

It’s a long and frustrating day, and it would be easy to get cynical and give up on our State government.  But for me, there were two highlights of the day that are worth reflecting on, that keep me hopeful and optimistic.

In the morning, Archbishop Dolan led a workshop on Catholic Social Teaching.  There have been many outlines of the social teachings of the Church, in an attempt to make them more accessible to people.  (Full disclosure:  I even wrote a small book about this subject)  And the Archbishop did an excellent job, in just a few minutes, to lay out the basic principles:  the innate dignity of every individual human person, made in the image and likeness of God;  the common good; solidarity; subsidiarity; and the duty to bring God’s truth into the public square.

But what was striking was how he started the discussion.  He said that “the first principle is God”, and that we must always remember that God’s way, and His law, must have dominion over our lives and our world.

That is a truly radical proposition, and it’s the heart of what we as Catholics must do when we stride into the public square.  We are never there to advance a purely partisan agenda, or to act on a theory of economics or social organization.  We’re there to convince the world of the dominion of God, that He must always be our guiding star, and that we are His servants.  It was the perfect way to kick off a day in which we would be going to the Capital Building to talk to our representatives about legislation.

The other highlight, for me, was the privilege of walking the halls of the Legislature with the Sisters of Life.  We went on a tour of the Capital Building, which is a whitewashed tomb, outwardly beautiful but filled with corruption within.  But we were there not just to see the sights, but so that the Sisters could be seen.   They don’t have to say a word to a legislator or to an aide, give a quote to a reporter, or have their picture taken.  Their presence alone is a witness to the King of Kings.  Merely walking through the hallways was an evangelizing moment.

And everyone there recognized it.  One thing about walking anywhere with the Sisters — you have to be patient, because they’re stopped every ten feet by people who want to talk to them and they stop to give Miraculous Medals to everyone they see.  What they saw, of course, was not just a small group of women in habits.  They saw a visible sign that people should commit themselves to God, and serve him with all their hearts, minds, souls, and strengths.

The first principle is always God.  That was why over a thousand Catholics went to Albany.  That’s the source of our hope.

Where We are on Health Care Reform

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Now that the special election has been held in Massachusetts to fill the vacant United States Senate seat, the Democrats in the Senate have lost their filibuster-proof majority, and new political winds are blowing.  So, it’s worth considering where we are in the health reform debate.

My friend Kathy Gallagher from the New York State Catholic Conference suggested that the best way to illustrate the status and fate of the bills currently before Congress is this — take the largest stack of paper in your house, go over to the window, open it up and throw all the papers out.

That may be a bit dramatic, but there’s no doubt that the entire political dynamic has changed, and there is clearly a groundswell of opposition to increased government spending and activism.  As a result, the Senate health reform bill, which has been sent to the House for consideration, is unlikely to pass without major changes.  Given the new make-up of the Senate, no bill will pass that body again without significant concessions to the Republicans and moderate Democrats.  Moderate members of Congress, particularly the Democrats, are re-calculating their political futures, and are unlikely to support dramatic expansions of government activity or increases in taxes.

This new situation also has tremendous significance for pro-lifers.  It now appears much less likely that there will be an expansion of federal abortion funding under the guise of health care reform.

In short, it seems likely that the current bills have reached their expiration dates, and the President and the Congressional leadership will have to look to new ideas to break the deadlock and accomplish any kind of health care reform.

I think that Catholic social teaching provides a possible solution, particularly the principle of subsidiarity.  This requires that, in developing social policies, we must defer to the most local level that can handle the problem adequately. So, the primary responsibility for virtually all issues falls on individuals and families. We must respect their freedom to make decisions about their welfare, trust that in most cases they will act rationally, while at the same time enacting social policies that help them make decisions and offer assistance when they are unable to accomplish their goals.

Now, there are many possible policy solutions that would satisfy the principle of subsidiarity.  But one that would also accomplish the major goals of health reform (restraining costs, allocating costs fairly across the population, increasing consumer choice, attaining universal coverage) could include some of the following:

  • Changing the tax code to permit people to de-link their health insurance from their job.   This would give people the freedom to take their health insurance wherever they go, instead of being locked into a plan chosen by their employer of the moment (and forever afraid of losing their insurance if they change or lose their jobs).
  • Permitting health insurance companies to carry on business across state lines, subject, of course, to reasonable regulations to ensure fair practices.  This would allow more options for individuals and families to shop around to control their costs and their coverage.
  • Creating health care “exchanges” for consumers, which offer choices among a number of health plans.  This is like the system enjoyed by employees of the federal government, and it would  increase the ability of families to select the kind of coverage that is best for them, as opposed to being required to accept a “one-size-fits-all” approach.  It’s also more likely to respect individual rights to conscience, for instance by allowing people to choose plans that do not cover offensive things like abortion.
  • Creating a catastrophic insurance plan that would automatically cover everyone.  This would be especially attractive for those who do not wish to carry ordinary health insurance but who want to be protected against major risks.
  • Guaranteeing access for all, including immigrants who wish to buy insurance, and those with pre-existing health conditions.  This could even involve increasing the eligibility levels for public plans (e.g., Medicaid or Family Health Plus), so that more low-income families would have access to coverage.
  • Providing subsidies (such as tax credits or vouchers) to help low-income people purchase insurance, either from a private company or a public plan (e.g., Medicare, Child Health Plus, Medicaid, etc.).
  • The President and Congress could pass these initiatives in a very simple piece of legislation that would, in my opinion, enjoy wide bi-partisan support.  It wouldn’t significantly expand the role of government in the economy, and wouldn’t dramatically increase deficits or taxes.   It also wouldn’t require all Americans to pay for abortions, or leave them in fear of government health care rationing.

    Elections have consequences.  The Massachusetts election result is saying something very clear — it’s time to start thinking of new solutions.