Nearly 2,000 Long Island Catholics rallied with hundreds of thousands of anti-abortion activists in Washington on Friday, a day after New York’s bishops pushed back against a proposed state law that would bolster abortion rights.
More than 1,000 parishioners and some 700 high school students from the Diocese of Rockville Centre boarded buses early Friday to travel to the March for Life on the National Mall, the country's largest annual anti-abortion demonstration. The march takes place every year around the Jan. 22 anniversary date of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.
Leading the Long Island contingent was Bishop John Barres, the diocese's top official.
Barres described the march as a way of "giving living witness to the Gospel of Life.”
“I am proud of each and every one of them as they are willing to be vocal and courageous in the public square about the deep reverence for every human life at every stage of life,” Barres said in a statement.
Maureen Russell of Floral Park boarded a bus sponsored by the diocese and her parish, Our Lady of Victory, at 5 a.m. and was in the nation's capital a little less than six hours later.
“Many, many Long Islanders are frustrated that New York is passing some very intense pro-choice legislation, and we want them and our representatives to know they are not representing us,” Russell, 50, said in a telephone interview. “There are thousands of Long Islanders that are against abortion and for life, and so many women that are suffering from past abortions on Long Island.”
In a speech broadcast from the Rose Garden, President Donald Trump told the 100,000-plus marchers that “we are with you all the way” and that he is committed to building “a society where life is celebrated, protected and cherished.”
In New York, Barres and the bishops of the seven other dioceses in the state released a letter Thursday expressing their "profound sadness" at the possible passage of the Reproductive Health Act that legislators in Albany introduced two weeks ago. The long-stalled abortion-rights bill would codify the Roe decision in New York State.
“We mourn the unborn infants who will lose their lives, and the many mothers and fathers who will suffer remorse and heartbreak as a result," said the letter, signed by the bishops, including Barres and Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York.
Separately, Barres called the proposed legislation “horrific.”
“This dangerous act would effectively remove all impediments to late-term abortions,” he said in his statement. “I invite all Catholics to pray with us for the protection of all life from the moment of conception until natural death.”
The bishops renewed their pledge to offer health services to any woman with an unplanned pregnancy, to support her in giving birth, raising the child or putting the child up for adoption.
“Our governor and legislative leaders hail this new abortion law as progress,” the bishops wrote. “This is not progress. Progress will be achieved when our laws and our culture once again value and respect each unrepeatable gift of human life, from the first moment of creation to natural death. Would that not make us truly the most enlightened and progressive state in the nation?”
For supporters, the proposed law is necessary because a more conservative majority on today's Supreme Court could narrow or overturn the Roe decision. In his two years as president, Trump has had two seats on the high court to fill. The Senate has confirmed Trump nominees Neil Gorsuch in 2017 and Brett Kavanaugh last fall.
In control of both the Assembly and Senate, Democrats have said they want to pass the legislation by the anniversary of Roe, which is Tuesday.
"With reproductive rights and access under attack from Washington in a way we haven't seen in decades, now is the time to pass the Reproductive Health Act and reclaim New York's place as a leader on women's reproductive freedom," said State Sen. Liz Krueger (D-Manhattan).
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, also a Democrat, has called for passage in the first 30 days of the 2019 legislative session, which started Jan. 2.
"We have an extreme conservative agenda in Washington," Cuomo said earlier this month. "It's their morality. It's their interpretation of religion. It's their interpretation of ethics. And they're going to impose it on you."
The governor has said he wants to go beyond the Reproductive Health Act and push for a state constitutional amendment that would protect a woman’s right to have an abortion. An amendment would have to be approved by the Assembly, the Senate and voters.
“We’ll be able to say we’ve protected women’s rights in a way no one has been able to do before,” Cuomo said.