More than two weeks after New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law expanding legal protection for abortion, his battle with New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan continues in the op-ed pages of New York newspapers.
In a Feb. 6 op-ed in the New York Times, Cuomo accused President Donald Trump and the “religious right”, including Dolan, of “spreading falsehoods about abortion laws to inflame their base.”
“Activists on the far right continue to mislead with the ridiculous claim that the act will allow abortions up to a minute before birth,” he wrote.
According to the law’s wording, the Reproductive Health Act will allow for abortions “within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or (when) there is an absence of fetal viability, or at any time when necessary to protect a patient's life or health.” The bill also removes 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.
“While Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and the Catholic Church are anti-choice, most Americans, including most Catholics, are pro-choice,” Cuomo said. “While governments may very well enact laws that are consistent with religious teaching, governments do not pass laws to be consistent with what any particular religion dictates.”
Cuomo, himself a Catholic, said he signed the Reproductive Health Act “to protect against” the “extreme conservatives” who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the U.S.
“The decisions I choose to make in my life, or in counseling my daughters, are based on my personal moral and religious beliefs,” Cuomo said, but the “oath of office is to the Constitutions of the United States and of the State of New York - not to the Catholic Church. My religion cannot demand favoritism as I execute my public duties.”
New York has consistently been one of the most pro-choice states, and was the first to legalize abortion in 1970, three years prior to the passing of Roe v. Wade. It currently has the highest abortion rate in the nation.
In a post to his personal blog, Dolan shot back, accusing Cuomo of “hiding behind labels” like the “religious right” to malign those opposed to abortion when it was convenient for him.
“This is something new from the governor,” Dolan wrote. “He did not consider me part of the ‘religious right’ when seeking my help with the minimum wage increase, prison reform, protection of migrant workers, a welcome of immigrants and refugees, and advocacy for college programs for the state’s inmate population, which we were happy to partner with him on, because they were our causes too. I guess I was part of the ‘religious left’ in those cases.”
Quoting former Democratic Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey, Dolan noted that abortion is not about “right versus left, but right versus wrong.” Dolan also rejected Cuomo’s attempt to cast abortion as a “Catholic issue” instead of a human rights issue.
“The governor also continues his attempt to reduce the advocacy for the human rights of the pre-born infant to a ‘Catholic issue,’ an insult to our allies of so many religions, or none at all. Governor Casey again: ‘I didn’t get my pro-life belief from my religion class in a Catholic school, but from my biology and U.S. Constitution classes,’” Dolan noted.
Responding to Cuomo’s remarks that religion is personal, Dolan said: “Yes, religion is personal; it’s hardly private, as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and struggle for civil rights so eloquently showed. Governor Cuomo’s professed faith teaches discrimination against immigrants is immoral, too. Does that mean he cannot let that moral principle guide his public policy? Clearly not.”
“Debate abortion on what it is. Don’t hide behind labels like ‘right wing’ and ‘Catholic,’” the Cardinal concluded. It is not the first time Cuomo and Dolan have exchanged words over the Reproductive Health Act, as well as the Child Victim’s Act, which extended the statute of limitations for reporting childhood sexual abuse.
At a late January press conference, Cuomo slammed the Catholic Church over the sex abuse crisis: “Tell the truth. Jesus Christ teaches about truth and justice - social justice - and that’s not what the church did here,” he said.
In a January 28 op-ed in the New York Post, Dolan criticized Cuomo for insulting the Church and for signing the “ghoulish radical abortion-expansion law.”
“All this in a state that already had the most permissive abortion laws in the country,” the cardinal wrote. “Those who once told us that abortion had to remain safe, legal and rare now have made it dangerous, imposed and frequent.”
Responding to Dolan’s criticism, as well as calls from several other bishops for his excommunication, Cuomo doubled down on his defense of separating his religion from his politics in comments to reporters: “I have my own Catholic beliefs, how I live my life. ... That is my business as a Catholic...I don’t govern as a Catholic. I don’t legislate as a Catholic.”