Thirty-five years ago, while visiting the University of Notre Dame, former New York Governor Mario Cuomo gave a landmark speech on the topic of abortion. Decades later, the speech has been cited by Catholics who support abortion to establish their legitimacy as both people of faith and good citizens of the United States. The rhetoric is powerful, sometimes even approaching poetry, but the message is quite clear: A politician is not free to supplant his personal morality for public policy. Cuomo ended his address with these words:
“We can be fully Catholic; proudly, totally at ease with ourselves, a people in the world, transforming it, a light to this nation. Appealing to the best in our people, not the worst. Persuading, not coercing. Leading people to truth by love. And still, all the while, respecting and enjoying our unique pluralistic democracy. And we can do it even as politicians.”
I have always had a problem with Cuomo’s philosophy, because I believe it gave short shrift to the importance of personal morality in our actions.
If we do things that clash mightily with our own beliefs and values, we are hypocrites. We cannot, for example, say that we oppose racism but then abide by laws that codify that evil. If someone can’t live a life where their public and private selves coexist, they don’t deserve to be in public office.
That said, I do believe that Mario Cuomo had a good heart, and a good mind. I never got the impression that he felt anything but nausea when it came to the termination of a pregnancy. In his speech, he talks about the fetus having a unique and different status than an organ of the body, and it’s pretty obvious that he could never support or defend the taking of an innocent child’s life. He just didn’t want to “impose” that belief on other people.
Fast forward three and a half decades, and another man named Cuomo is talking about abortion.
This time it is Mario’s son, Andrew, who is the current governor of New York. Unlike his father, Andrew has abandoned the pretense — or in the case of Mario, the sincere belief — that abortion is wrong, a sin, a crime, or even something to be avoided. On Tuesday, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s abortion-legalizing decision in Roe v. Wade, Andrew signed the Reproductive Health Act into law. The law expands the state’s already liberal abortion laws to allow late-term abortions when “the patient is within 24 weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.”
It’s no secret that the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion is more vulnerable now than it has been in the past 40 years. With the appointment of pro-life Judge Brett Kavanaugh, there are five justices who are likely to vote in support of overturning Roe. And with two of the court’s more liberal judges clocking in at 80+ years old, it’s possible that President Trump will get to add another pro-life judge, further increasing the likelihood that abortion could once again become illegal in the United States.
That’s a problem for people in blue states like New York, where many people are pro-choice. Elected leaders are feeling the pressure to step in to protect abortion rights.
So Andrew Cuomo stepped in, with a vengeance.
The law passed this week makes it impossible for the government to prevent a woman from choosing an abortion during the first six months. The state cannot step in to stop her. This could be catastrophic. Take Iceland, for example, where close to 100 percent of women who find out their babies have Down syndrome choose to have an abortion. Imagine if women in America could wait up to six months to choose abort their babies for issues even less devastating than Down syndrome. What if a woman chose to abort because she wanted a boy instead of a girl? That’s feasible under Cuomo’s law.
The law also legalizes abortion up to the moment of birth if the mother’s life is in danger. In short: The law values the life of the mother more than the life of the child.
Mario Cuomo was opposed to abortion personally, but would not deprive others of that “right.”
That was bad enough, but at least he seemed apologetic.
Andrew Cuomo embraces abortion rights, celebrates the victory, and rejects the fundamental values of his faith without blinking an eye.