In March 1970, the New York State Legislature repealed the anti-abortion law that had been on the books since 1830. The bill narrowly passed, due to support from several legislators from heavily Catholic districts who were subsequently defeated for their apostasy in the November elections.
Back in those days, the Catholic Church in New York possessed moral authority; and the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Terrence Cooke, was not afraid to use that power in the public square.
Cardinal Cooke led the charge to repeal the law that permitted unrestricted abortions up to 24 weeks. And in May 1972, the State Legislature did just that and reinstated the 1830 statute.
Sadly, Governor Nelson Rockefeller vetoed the repeal of the liberalized abortion law shortly thereafter.
The New York abortion issue became moot, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973.
Fast forward forty years and abortion has once again made headlines in New York thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Cuomo, a baptized Catholic and graduate of Archbishop Molly High School in Queens and Fordham University in the Bronx, has abandoned some major moral tenets of his faith.
In 2011, his first year in office, he engineered the passage of same-sex marriage legislation. “Marriage equality,” he declared, “is a question of principle and the state shouldn’t discriminate against same-sex couples who wish to get married.”
Then on January 16, 2014, Cuomo announced, on a radio show, that Catholics and others with traditional moral views were unfit citizens who were no longer welcome in New York:
Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right to life, pro-assault weapons, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York because that’s not who New Yorkers are.
It gets worse.
Cuomo has been off the rails on the subject of abortion. In his 2013 State of the State Address, he cast his lot with the radical pro-abortion lobby, screaming four times, “It’s her body; it’s her choice!”
Cuomo introduced legislation that would repeal the 1970 abortion law, and would codify abortion as a “fundamental right of privacy,” a classification even the U.S. Supreme Court has rejected.
Cuomo’s proposal was bottled up in the Republican-Conservative-controlled State Senate for four years. But last November, the GOP lost control of that legislative chamber.
A jubilant Cuomo boasted that his so-called Reproductive Health Act would be the first order of business before the newly organized Legislature in January 2019.
And so it was.
On January 22, the 46thanniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Legislature passed the bill, to thundering applause and wild laughter. Minutes later, to a standing ovation, Cuomo signed it into law.
This law goes far beyond Roe v. Wade. It removes abortion clauses from the penal code and “creates a right to the procedure under the public health law.”
Although abortions are restricted to the first twenty-four weeks of pregnancy, exceptions are so broad (i.e., economic, social, or emotional distress) that anyone will be able to procure an abortion up to minutes before giving birth. In other words, the lives of unborn children who have viability outside the womb can now be terminated by doctors and non-doctors.
Governor Andrew Cuomo is very different than his father, Governor Mario Cuomo. The elder Cuomo tried to be St. Thomas More and Machiavelli at one and the same time.
In his famous 1984 Notre Dame speech on “Religious Belief and Public Morality,” the More-Cuomo said “The Catholic Church is my spiritual home. My head is there and my hope. . . .[and] I accept the Church’s teaching on abortion.” But the Machiavelli-Cuomo gave himself an “out” by claiming that as a public official, he could not impose his private religious views on the rest of society.
Mario Cuomo demonstrated the absurdity of his position every time he vetoed death penalty legislation that was approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature and was supported by over 60 percent of New Yorkers. Cuomo imposed his personal moral objections even though there was public opinion against him.
Andrew Cuomo is vastly different from his father. There is no duality; he prefers to be a Machiavellian and he promotes whatever works to advance his political ambitions.
In fact, it has been reported that when he was Clinton’s Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, one of his first acts “was to distribute the book by Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince, to his key aides. . .telling them: ‘This is my leadership philosophy.’”
Cuomo uses or spurns the Church when it suits his political ends. While he discarded Church teaching on abortion, he embraced and praised Pope Francis’s message concerning the needy and the marginalized. And when the pope visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral on September 24, 2015, Cuomo made sure he was in a front pew. It was great political theater for the governor.
Since Andrew Cuomo has dismissed the fundamental Church teaching that all persons have the right to life because they are made in the image of God, maybe it’s time the Church dismissed him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states that “Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged.”
So, at the very least, the bishops of New York should announce publicly that because Cuomo has caused public scandal, he must be denied Communion.
Or the bishops, if they have the mettle, might call Cuomo in and point out the canonical penalties they are prepared to impose if he does not renounce his heresy. Whether or not that includes excommunication is a matter for canon lawyers.
But something really must be done, lest New York’s bishops confirm the growing perception that the Catholic Church is a compromised paper tiger.
*Image: Standing (right to left in the photo), during the visit of Pope Francis to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (September 24, 2015), are the author, Mayor Bill DeBlasio, Sandra Lee (Andrew Cuomo’s domestic partner), and the governor.