"Mr. Trump and the Catholic Church are opposed to state actions like the Reproductive Health Act — even though they merely codify existing federal law and firmly established practices. But these objections aren't about the rare occasion when a woman has an abortion to protect her health or life. This is about the desire of Mr. Trump and allies on the right to outlaw abortion entirely. It is about bringing America back to the pre-Roe days."
Today, the New York Times published an op-ed from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in response to President Trump attacing New York's law protecting women's reproductive rights and proposed outlawing protections provided by Roe v. Wade during his State of the Union speech. Last month, Governor Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act codifying the protections of Roe v. Wade into law in New York State. The text of the op-ed is available below and online here.
In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Trump attacked the law that New York passed last month codifying a woman's right to an abortion, and he proposed federal legislation to roll back the protections provided by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The president's diatribe was part of the far-right's escalation of its assault on a woman's constitutional rights.
It's worth recalling that in 1999, long before he ran for president, Mr. Trump described himself as "very pro-choice." Today he claims to be anti-choice, and he shamelessly courts the religious right to win votes.
Too much of today's political discourse is extreme. But emotions run especially high when politics and religion intersect — as in the debate about a woman's right to choose. As a Roman Catholic, I am intimately familiar with the strongly held views of the church. Still, I do not believe that religious values should drive political positions.
I just signed the Reproductive Health Act into law to protect against the Republicans' efforts to pack the Supreme Court with extreme conservatives to overturn the constitutional protections recognized in Roe v. Wade.
Roe has been repeatedly reaffirmed by the Supreme Court, in multiple decisions, as recently as 2016, and has been supported by justices selected by both Democratic and Republican presidents. In fact, Roe was decided at a time of Republican control of the White House, under a chief justice, Warren Burger, who was nominated by Richard Nixon. The decision's author was another Nixon justice, Harry Blackmun.
As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican appointed by Ronald Reagan, stated in 1992 in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the court recognizes "the right of the woman to choose to have an abortion before viability and to obtain it without undueinterference from the state." She also confirmed "the state's power to restrict abortions after fetal viability, if the law contains exceptions for pregnancies which endanger the woman's life or health."
As part of their attack on women's rights, Mr. Trump and his allies are intentionally spreading lies about New York's Reproductive Health Act. Their goal is to end all legal abortion in our nation.
The Reproductive Health Act guarantees a woman's right to abortion in the first 24 weeks of a pregnancy or when the fetus is not viable, and permits it afterward only when a woman's life or health is threatened or at risk. Contrary to what its detractors claim, the Reproductive Health Act does not allow abortions minutes before birth, nor does it allow third-trimester abortions "for any reason." Third-trimester procedures are extremely rare, making up only about 1 percent of all abortions. The option is available for exactly the reason stated in Roe and successor cases: to protect the life or health of the woman.
Although New York was a trailblazer in protecting a woman's right to choose, we did not update our laws after Roe to conform with the right established by the Supreme Court, particularly regarding a woman's right to make decisions to protect her health. And in an increasingly fractious political environment, there has been continual anxiety that the court will overrule the Roe precedent.
These fears increased with the confirmation of two extreme-right justices who had voiced opposition to the precedent set in Roe, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Most observers of the Supreme Court believe the question is not if Roe will be overturned, but when.
Some states, like New York, feel an urgency to protect the rights of their citizens. Mr. Trump and the Catholic Church are opposed to state actions like the Reproductive Health Act — even though they merely codify existing federal law and firmly established practices.
But these objections aren't about the rare occasion when a woman has an abortion to protect her health or life. This is about the desire of Mr. Trump and allies on the right to outlaw abortion entirely. It is about bringing America back to the pre-Roe days.
Mr. Trump and the religious right are spreading falsehoods about New York's law 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.
While Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, and the Catholic Church are anti-choice, most Americans, including most Catholics, are pro-choice. The 73 percent of New Yorkers who support Roe includes 59 percent of Catholics. 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.
I was educated in religious schools, and I am a former altar boy. My Roman Catholic values are my personal values. The decisions I choose to make in my life, or in counseling my daughters, are based on my personal moral and religious beliefs.
Thanks to the nation's founders, no elected official is empowered to make personal religious beliefs the law of the land. My 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.
Our country is founded on pluralism. The First Amendment defines our most sacred freedoms, including freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. But the first one listed is freedom of religion. We cannot have true freedom of religion without separation of church and state. And the country cannot function if religious officials are dictating policy to elected officials.
Only by separating constitutional duties from religious beliefs can we have a country that allows all people the ability to pursue their own theological and moral principles in a nation true to its founding premise of religious freedom.