New York’s Abortion Bill and How Bishops Approach Pro-Choice Politicians

Yesterday, on the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in America, the New York state legislature passed the Reproductive Health Act, significantly expanding access to abortion in the state. Although 25 to 27 percent of pregnancies in New York end in abortion, this bill makes significant changes that  promote access to both abortion and contraception, including allowing abortion after 24 weeks, and even into the third trimester.

Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of the Diocese of Albany has called the bill a “Death Star” and predicts that it will increase abortion in the state. He stopped by Morning Air® yesterday to discuss the bill, and also explained how bishops approach Catholic politicians who support pro-choice policies.

On the Reproductive Health Act, Bishop Scharfenberger said, “It’s couched in language of health and of rights, but it is anything but a promotion of health and rights. Quite the contrary.”

“It’s destructive to family life, which ultimately is really the evil of abortion,” he explained. “Because what it does is it cuts right into the middle of relationships between men and women. It deprives women of their own children, it deprives families of their own natural orientation – to bring life, to give life, to nurture life. It’s really an attack on the family itself, as well as an obvious attack on women, children, and men as well.”

Bishop Scharfenberger pointed out a few items in the bill that he sees as evidence the objective is to expand abortion access rather than make women safer. He said, “The granting of non-doctors permission to perform abortions does nothing to advance the security and health of women. Even though that’s what it is purported to do. It’s condoning basically coerced or involuntary abortions by repealing all criminal sanctions, even in cases where the perpetrator wants to make his partner unpregnant through an act of physical violence. How does this represent any progress, choice, safety, or the health of women?”

“Removing protection for any infant accidentally born alive during an abortion, it’s a kind of cruelty that would shock the conscience of somebody if it was done to a dog or a cat,” he told Morning Air host John Harper.

During the conversation with Bishop Scharfenberger, a listener called who who asked why bishops don’t excommunicate Catholic politicians who champion policies that promote abortion, as New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo did with the Reproductive Health Act.

“Governor Cuomo is well aware of the discrepancy, in my view, of what he is advocating,” Bishop Scharfenberger  said. “Excommunication is a formal declaration that a person may not receive Communion publicly. Governor Cuomo himself does not receive Communion publicly.”

Bishop Scharfenberger also gave some insight into how bishops use excommunication in their pastoral role, saying, “The purpose of excommunication is to note the sinner, so he knows he has been warned, he has been noted. And secondly, to bring them back to full practice of the faith. It is meant to be effective, to achieve that purpose. Not to satisfy the desire to see some punishment. It’s not meant to be a punishment. It’s meant to be reparative and constructive.”

In the case of Governor Cuomo, Bishop Scharfenberger spoke candidly, saying, “If somebody shows me how this would bring Mr. Cuomo back to the full practice of the faith, I would be the first to do it. I don’t think it would have that effect. I don’t think he gives a darn about what the Church does, and would, in fact, use it for political purposes against us. We can debate that, but if it does not achieve its purpose then it is blowing hot air.”

“Excommunication can be an effective tool if it brings about the repentance and the reform of the life of the person against whom it is levied,” he continued. “And it need not be public. It can also be done privately. And there may actually be individuals who have been excommunicated that the public would not know of.”

Bishop Scharfenberger showed that he takes seriously his role as a shepherd of souls, and cares for the eternal welfare of those in his care. Including politicians. “[Excommunication is] not really a sanction so much as it is a noting that the person’s soul is in jeopardy,” he said. “And I know many, many bishops have had conversations … and we will continue to have conversations, as I have myself, with many of our politicians who support measures like this. Warning them of the danger this is to their own soul. We all have to face God someday.”

Listen to the full conversation with Bishop Edward Scharfenberger below:

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Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.