You’re either pro-choice, or you’re not pro-choice,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo repeatedly said this past legislative session, demanding that lawmakers vote on his bill to expand abortion rights in New York. He called the issue a “binary” one, meaning, I suppose, there are only two positions.
Now that the state Senate has rebuffed the governor’s demands, he says the issue will be an electoral one, and we can expect him to ramp up the abortion litmus test in the coming election year.
But I beg to differ: Abortion is not a black-and-white issue with two sides and nothing in the middle. In fact, most people are in the middle. When pollsters ask the question, “Do you think abortion should be legal under any circumstances, legal only under certain circumstances, or illegal in all circumstances?” the majority of Americans (52 percent) choose the middle of the road.
Why? Because people, even self-described “pro-choice” people, are uncomfortable with later-term abortion. In its most recent poll, Gallup found that 64 percent of Americans think abortion should be illegal in the second three months of pregnancy, and 80 percent believe abortion should be banned in the final three months of pregnancy. Polls in New York confirm these findings.
It makes sense. As the baby grows inside the womb week by week, his or her identity develops, too. We identify with those little human beings. We watch them kick their legs and suck their thumbs on the ultrasound. We take pains to protect them from the hazards of second-hand smoke and alcohol poisoning.
Yet the abortion bill trumpeted by the governor would have eliminated the protections in New York law for fully formed unborn infants in the last trimester of pregnancy. It was all about late-term abortion. Current New York law says abortion is prohibited at that time unless the life of the mother is in danger.
The governor wanted to replace that with a broad anything-goes “health” exception for abortions after 24 weeks. And the Supreme Court has already said that when states opt for a broad health exception, abortion can be allowed at any time right up to the due date for virtually any social, economic or psychological reason.
Why would New York want to encourage more late-term abortions? We already have the highest abortion rate in the nation. We should be working to decrease the unacceptably high abortion numbers in New York and provide life-affirming alternatives to women faced with unplanned pregnancies.
Less, not more
Politicians who say they want to make abortion “safe, legal and rare” should advance policies that reduce the tragedy of abortion. We need an abortion contraction bill, not an abortion expansion.
The governor wrapped his late-term abortion expansion in a “women’s equality” package of nine other non-controversial policy changes, such as strengthening laws against sex trafficking, stopping sexual harassment, and achieving pay equity in the workplace.
As a woman, I applaud those advances, but I am insulted that an abortion expansion was part of the mix. More abortion will do nothing to empower women, help us achieve equality or enhance our health or dignity.
Bravo to Senate Co-Majority Leader Dean Skelos — and my Senate representative Hugh Farley — for passing each of those other improvements for women, and for saying no, we won’t vote on an unnecessary, unwanted and dangerous expansion of late-term abortion in our state.
And shame on my new Assembly representative Phil Steck for voting yes on abortion and failing to pass the other nine bills so they could be enacted into law. Gov. Cuomo is right about one thing: We voters will remember at the polls.
Kathleen M. Gallagher is director of Pro-Life Activities for the New York State Catholic Conference.