Cardinal Dolan on the Civil Rights of the Unborn

by NR Interview
Pushing back against false notions of life and liberty.

‘We have to come to the assistance of the poor and the vulnerable,” Cardinal Timothy Michael Dolan said outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral after Mass on Sunday morning. “Wherever the dignity of human life . . . is threatened,” people of faith have a “sacred responsibility,” he said, to “speak up” and “come to the assistance” of those whose civil rights are endangered, most especially “the innocent baby in the womb.”

Just two days after New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, insisted that the Empire State has no place in it for people who believe in a “right to life” (more here), and three days before the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, 2,000 Catholic families, activists, and leaders in making the state more welcoming to life gathered at St. Patrick’s for Cardinal Dolan’s previously scheduled pro-life Mass.

During his homily, Dolan called for an end to the sacrifice of innocent life, as he focused on penance, prayer, and gratitude for the pro-life commitment of those attending his Mass — people living the Gospel of Life.

This Wednesday, hundreds of thousands — many of them young people — will march on Washington, D.C., to protest Roe v. Wade. They will travel from throughout the Northeast and Midwest, and elsewhere; last year I spotted groups from North Dakota and Texas and Florida, to name a few.

Cardinal Dolan will be among the more than a thousand participants from the Archdiocese of New York; in anticipation of the anniversary, he spoke with me last week about the march, the Obama administration’s abortion-drug, contraception, and sterilization mandate, which affects the lives of even the Little Sisters of the Poor (the Archdiocese of New York and related agencies are currently protected by a temporary injunction), the culture, and Governor Cuomo’s legislation to expand access to abortion, which poses a new threat to life in the Empire State.

As the cardinal makes clear during the interview, the work to build a culture of life in New York continues, and the events of this week will provide an important witness to the country and a source of inspiration and renewal for the daily work at home — and, yes, even in Albany. — KJL


KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ: Your Eminence, as you know, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, has reintroduced the concept of a “Women’s Equality Act” as an agenda item for this year. Are you going to be a vocal opponent of it again? Why did you have problems with it last time and why might you continue to oppose it?

CARDINAL TIMOTHY MICHAEL DOLAN: Well, you bet, we’re going to be an opponent to one tragic part of it, which is the one that will radically expand the abortion license.

There are parts of the Women’s Equality Act that we can support. The bishops of New York, bolstered by the strong New York pro-life community, have said, “Hey, there’s a good chunk of the governor’s bill that we can support, but not that deadly one, radically expanding the abortion license.” We would very loudly say “no” to that. We have asked that the legislators be allowed to consider the individual parts of the law in separate bills, so that the good parts can move forward. Sadly, it is the people on the other side who are so insistent on expanding abortion rights that they would block all of the good parts of the law in order to try to get their way.

LOPEZ: Are you in an awkward spot on this and other issues? One side is talking about women’s health and freedom, so that it looks as if you’re saying “no” to women’s health and freedom! Is that an awkward position to be in? How would you suggest Catholics contend with that uncomfortable feeling?

CARDINAL DOLAN: I don’t know if it’s awkward as much as challenging. What we have to do is reclaim the narrative here, because this is not a women’s-health issue.

Anything that would take the life of the baby in the womb, anything that would risk harming the mother — which this radical expansion would — is hardly for women’s health. It’s certainly not healthy for the female babies in the womb who are aborted.

So: This is not a women’s-health issue, and it’s not a freedom issue either.

Freedoms are limited by virtue and by the law. It’s engrained in the human heart. We don’t have the freedom to take the life of another human being, and that’s what abortion does, of course.

Anybody who is really sincere in wanting to advocate for women’s health — and we sure are — would be against this part of the law. Because what it does is really put the woman at greater risk, as well as the baby who is going to be aborted. If this goes through, people who do not have proper training will now be able to do abortions. You’re talking about these abortuaries — the abortion clinics — not being subject to appropriate examination, to make sure that they’re at least clean and sanitary. You’re talking about removal of alternatives — freedom — given to the woman to have the kind of support, encouragement, and education necessary, perhaps, to make the life-affirming choice.

So this is not about women’s health, this is not about freedom — it’s anything but.

LOPEZ: When you talk about it, it certainly sounds different from what Governor Cuomo is saying. There’s an observation you’ve made over the past year: You’ve suggested that the culture seems to prefer abortion. What do you mean when you say that? Who could prefer abortion? People who support its legal status tend to consider it a “necessary evil,” don’t they?

CARDINAL DOLAN: I think you’re right when reason takes over. When reason takes over, nobody prefers abortion. We see it as a tragedy to be avoided. But unfortunately reason has been deluded here, because of the power of the abortion culture.

And yes, what we have now, sadly, is that sometimes abortion is preferred, and sometimes abortion is even — in the twisted culture that we’ve got — thought to be virtuous. Sometimes abortion is thought to be the right choice.

All you have to do is talk with brave women — and brave fathers — who carry a baby in their womb who has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. They will tell you about the pressure they feel to abort the baby. They’ll tell you about the people who tell them that it would be virtuous to abort the baby.

What we’ve got now is a culture where sometimes abortion is preferred. Abortion is pushed. Abortion is advocated. And there are some people who would like to see abortion even mandated — as it is in China.

LOPEZ: The pope, of course, has just mentioned abortion and how evil it is, but the media frequently tell us that he doesn’t talk a lot about it. Pope Francis even suggested, in that famous interview, that people were obsessed about it. Do you feel any sense of caution about being out here and talking about abortion so much? Obviously, you feel you need to because of the abortion numbers in your city, but how do you deal with what Pope Francis has said?

CARDINAL DOLAN: Surprise, surprise — I think the Holy Father’s right. [The cardinal laughs.] There’s nothing newsworthy about that.

Obsession with anything is wrong, right? Obsession is a sin. Obsession by its very nature means that we’ve given up our free will and we are now controlled by something else.

So we can’t be obsessed about anything, and when the Holy Father reminds us of that, he’s a good moral teacher.

In fact, if we’re obsessed about something, it becomes counterproductive, because we lose our reason, we lose our sense of distance and logic, and it really blows up in our face. So: He is right.

But who is really obsessed with things here? I mean, the proponents of this bill are the ones who are obsessed with it. They’re not willing to say, “Now we’ve got abortion almost on demand. We’ve got abortion now that is often financed by the government. Let’s at least leave it alone.” Are you kidding? They’re so obsessed with it that they want to expand it even more! They’re so obsessed with it that they are willing to sacrifice all of the good things the bill could do to try and expand abortion!

And so if we’re going to talk about obsession, let’s talk about the other side.

LOPEZ: On the issues of abortion and contraception and religious liberty — these are all issues that you’ve talked a lot about and sort of had to talk a lot about, right? Because you were put in this position — you didn’t seek to be doing this on your own. It must be frustrating for you to watch some of the media coverage. People are talking about a “war on women” — the Catholic Church having some kind of problem with women. How do you deal with this all from day to day when talking with people about these issues, and a media who often don’t even realize you’re really talking about religious liberty?

CARDINAL DOLAN: Thanks for asking; a couple of responses to that.

First of all, sometimes we bishops and other committed Catholics are accused of talking way too much about this. Of course, we’re not the ones who want to talk about it. We wish they’d leave us alone. They’re the ones who keep trying to force us to do things that are against our conscience. We bishops didn’t ask for this fight. We wish it were over. We’re not going to walk away from it, but the Lord knows we’re not the ones who asked to get into it. It’s the other side that seems obsessed with it, that keeps talking about it, that keeps wanting it, that is almost driven to radically expand abortion.

So there’s one observation.

Number two: If there’s a war on women, I’d like to suggest that it’s not on behalf of the Church. We can stand tall with anybody. There’s nobody in the world that helps women and children more than the Catholic Church, so we don’t have to apologize for that.

I’d like to suggest that if there’s a war on women, the ones who are waging it are those who want to make abortion even more accessible. It’s those who want to deny women the education and the encouragement and the help they need in order to choose life. It’s those who want to say that people who are not properly skilled in medicine can now do abortions. It’s people who say that these abortuaries are not even open to any type of medical inspection to make sure they’re sanitary.

If there’s a war on women going on, I’d like to suggest that the term applies to the other side, not to us.

LOPEZ: So much of the controversy regarding religious liberty has been over what is referred to as a “contraception mandate.” Are you all confident enough in your position and in what you’re proposing on contraception to fight on that plane?

CARDINAL DOLAN: Yes, because we would stand on principle that — as strongly committed as we are about the fact that chemical contraception and abortifacients and sterilization are against the natural law and the moral law — this fight is not, at its core, about contraception. The real issue is the federal government intruding into the very life of the Church and almost defining the scope and identity of our ministries — deciding which of our ministries can qualify for these government-defined exemptions. They’re the ones saying to us: You can morally live with this. Don’t worry; this doesn’t violate your conscience.

Well, I beg to differ. That’s not their job.

It’s the sacred responsibility of a Catholic to follow his or her conscience based on what God has told us. Catholics are the ones who have the moral responsibility, and they look to us bishops as the official teachers. They don’t look to the Department of Health and Human Services. They don’t look to the federal government. And yet the federal government is the one taking — daring, presuming, to take upon itself the role of intruding into the internal life of the Church, which is constitutionally protected — intruding into that to say what we can and can’t morally live with.

LOPEZ: Speaking of Washington, you’re headed there this coming week.

CARDINAL DOLAN: Yes, I’m going! I’m looking forward to it. I go because I’m so inspired.

LOPEZ: It’s such a grim anniversary. Why is it inspiring?

CARDINAL DOLAN: It is a grim anniversary. It’s a somber anniversary. But it’s almost become like a Good Friday. There’s Good Friday — why do we call it “good”? The worst thing in the history of the world happened on that day. The Son of God was crucified. But good came of it. That’s what I was saying about January 22. It’s a morbid, somber, sad, tragic anniversary, but now we see resurrection coming from it, as we see hundreds of thousands of committed people joining the march.

It gets bigger and bigger every year, and the crowd gets younger and younger every year — more articulate, more passionate — saying we must reclaim our American birthright. We must reclaim the idea that everybody has equal protection under the law, even the baby in the womb.

This is something exciting. This is something exhilarating. This is something inspirational that we see going on.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is director of Catholic Voices USA and serves on the cardinal’s Pro-Life Commission. 


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