The Reproductive Health Act: Common sense values for the common good
The Reproductive Health Act (RHA) protects women’s rights, health and the consciences of providers and patients. This is just good common sense. Further, it meets the Catholic injunction to protect the common good—of all New Yorkers, Catholic and non-Catholic.
The act contains many familiar principles. The RHA affirms that “every individual has a fundamental right of privacy with respect to certain reproductive health decisions” and strengthens the legal infrastructure for rights that have been recognized in New York since before 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. It keeps in place the existing conscience protections that allow providers and patients to follow their own convictions in providing or accessing abortion care.
Conscience is of primary importance for Catholics—we are called to follow our conscience in matters of moral decision making and to respect others’ right to do the same. RHA’s common-sense provision for a woman’s right to choose an abortion in cases where her health is endangered is supported by 86 percent of US Catholics, according to the 2008 General Social Survey. This should come as no surprise, since the Guttmacher Institute found that Catholic women access abortion care at the same rate as other women. Seven out of ten New Yorkers support the passage of the RHA. They matter and they vote.
The RHA is an expression of widely held values about healthcare. But when the US bishops talk about reproductive health issues, they paint a different picture. New York’s Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan insists that the Obama administration’s recent decision to require contraception coverage in most employer health plans—a policy explicitly about women’s access to family planning—is really a “freedom of religion battle.” The bishops claim that those who support reproductive rights are somehow anti-Catholic and anti-American.
This is dramatic stuff. Especially compared to the conscience, that “still, small voice” that guides each of us through the decisions, big and small, of everyday life. RHA’s protections are there for when women make a conscience-based decision that an abortion is their moral choice. Catholics support policies that give other individuals the means to act upon their innate capacity for moral decision-making. According to 2009 data, 73 percent of Catholic voters believe health insurance—whether private or public—should cover abortion when a pregnancy poses long-term health risks to a woman. Eighty-five percent of Catholics believe in extending birth control coverage to those who want it but cannot afford it, compared to 82 percent of the general population, according to the Public Religion Research Institute.
In the debate about reproductive health, the common good too often gets drowned out. The Reproductive Health Act, however, does capture the common-sense values that New Yorkers, including Catholics, have long supported. The fundamental right to follow one’s conscience when it comes to reproductive health decisions is a Catholic value, is a New York value, and the RHA protects that right.
This letter was originally published in the Legislative Gazette.