The “women’s health” spin we’ve been seeing lately could give you whiplash. Nationally and in my New York State, there’s a whole lot of manipulation going on.
Nationally, the White House continues its unnecessary, perplexing attack on religious liberty. Its latest iteration of a proposed “accommodation” regarding the HHS mandate that has been so controversial remains an attack on Americans’ conscience rights. Those Americans are not only opposed to contributing to their employees’ contraception, which is the focus of most media attention to the issue, but the coverage abortion-inducing drugs, too. That’s why you see not only Catholics, but Protestants and others, suing the federal government to protect religious liberty from this White House’s re-interpretation of the common good (which apparently mandates sexual-revolutionary values). Contrary to much of the spin, this debate is not about “access,” but freedom.
During his state-of-the-state address last month, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled his abortion-expansion agenda with repeated choruses of “Choice!” His supposed gift to women, the Reproductive Health Act, will allow non-physicians to perform abortions — including late-term abortions — and entail some additional narrowing of religion-liberty protections. But the governor has wrapped those measures up in a bill with the kind of initiatives politicians are loath to oppose, such as measures against housing discrimination and guaranteeing “pay equity.”
Cheryl Calire is director of pro-life activities for the Catholic Archdiocese of Buffalo and a founder of that city’s St. Gianna Molla Pregnancy Outreach Center, where she works as a peer counselor. “We have so many other issues in the state that need attention, that one wonders why so much time and effort is being spent on an issue that would not pass as a stand-alone bill,” she tells me. “If it were so sound and needed, which I do not believe it is, its merit would have already been recognized on its own.” The key measures in the Reproductive Health Act have been sitting around for six years and have never been brought to a vote. This time, the governor has wrapped it up with all kinds of initiatives in an attempt to solidify his standing with the big-money feminist groups on the left he needs for a run at the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. New Yorkers, don’t be fooled: “To repackage it is like an accounting shuffle — at the end of the day, it still adds up the same,” Calire says.
And given the current situation in the Empire State, there’s a strong case to be made that the bill isn’t actually promoting what Cuomo claims it is, choice. “In the many conversations I have had with post-abortive women,” Calire shares, “they actually felt they had no ‘choice,’ especially because the man made them feel that since it was legal, it was the course of action that should be followed. The same often is the case for the teen who may not ‘choose’ to have an abortion, but whose parents don’t want to face the perceived embarrassment that they may face, so make the ‘choice’ for her.”
Choice is so much more than a slogan, so much more important than a mask to launch a presidential campaign, and so much more liberating than what the governor offers in its name.
In her work at the Gianna Center, Calire listens to pregnant mothers, supports them, and connects them with support for their material, medical, and educational needs. This is the hard work of offering real choice. “Our goal is to empower these women and equip them with the necessary resources available to help them become a good parent and active member of our society,” Calire explains. “We have women who stay in touch, finish school, start a new career, and come and volunteer,” she adds. Calire wants every pregnant woman to know that “there are people who care about you, your unborn child, and are willing to put that into action.”
Calire’s commitment to pro-life work was intensified by an unplanned pregnancy close to home. Her 15-year-old son fathered a child with his girlfriend. He wanted to step up to the plate and take responsibility for the child he had helped conceive, but his girlfriend’s parents had already scheduled an abortion. It was a difficult road, but her grandson is now six years old, living with his dad, with visits from his mom. “He is the light in our life,” his loving grandmother proclaims.
If Andrew Cuomo really wanted to give women a choice, he’d support initiatives such as tax credits for couples who adopt, or measures similar to the Signs of Hope Act, a Louisiana law that ensures that pregnant women at abortion clinics know their options. New York City has been described as the abortion capital of the United States, with 41 percent of pregnancies there ending in abortion. It requires a suspension of disbelief to buy that what New York needs right now is more abortion. Governor Cuomo has followed President Obama’s lead in using “health” and “choice,” among other unobjectionable words, to obscure a radical agenda.
One almost is nostalgic for the days of “safe, legal, and rare,” New York’s Timothy Cardinal Dolan recently reflected. Recent events in the Empire State certainly confirm that we are far from them. Grimly, Dolan added, “abortion seems to be not the law of the land but the preference of the land.”
Why else would anyone cheerlead for Governor Cuomo’s push? We’re better than that; we must be better than that. Let’s focus on actually helping women, instead going along with Governor Cuomo’s miserable excuse for a conversation about “choice” and “health.”
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association. She is a director of Catholic Voices USA, in which Cheryl Calire has participated.