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Bishops lobby against expanding state abortion laws

Bishop William Murphy speaks at St. Agnes Cathedral

Bishop William Murphy speaks at St. Agnes Cathedral about the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in Rockville Centre. (Feb. 23, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

New York's Catholic bishops Tuesday met with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in Albany to lobby against any expansion of the state's abortion laws, but said they were left "a bit in limbo" because the governor did not reveal the details.

The comments by William Murphy, the Rockville Centre bishop, and Howard J. Hubbard, the Albany bishop, marked a softening in tone from earlier criticisms by the Catholic Conference of New York, which represents eight diocesan bishops. "He [Cuomo] is looking at it from the perspective of the man who has to look at the law of the land," Hubbard said. "We are looking at it from a moral perspective, and whether these two can come together," remains to be seen.

From Rome, Cardinal Timothy Dolan in a blog said the purpose of the bishops' meeting with the Democratic governor "was to build a culture of life in New York."

Tomi Jacobs-Ziobro, a board member of the Concerned Clergy for Choice, which represents more than 1,000 leaders of different faiths, said religious leaders should involve themselves in these decisions only if invited by the woman involved.

In his January State of the State address, Cuomo called for enacting the Reproductive Health Act as part of a 10-point women's equality agenda.

Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the state's Catholic Conference, responded by castigating him for the "repackaging of an extreme abortion bill" that would "permit more late-term abortions, allow non-doctors to perform abortions, and will preclude any reasonable restrictions on abortion like parental notification."

However, there are a number of variations of the Reproductive Health Act.

"The governor later made it clear that his version of the Reproductive Health Act would codify Roe v. Wade," said Richard Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

New York enacted its abortion law in 1970 and supporters of abortion rights for women say it should be modernized to mirror the federal law. The state allows late-term abortions if a mother's life is at risk; federal law allows them if a mother's health is endangered.

Murphy Tuesday again raised concerns about Cuomo widening the role of nurse practitioners and health professionals in performing abortions. "What actually are they going to be able to do? There is an ambiguity there that we cannot respond to," he said.

Cuomo's general counsel, Mylan Denerstein, last month said, "The governor is not expanding in any way whatsoever who may perform abortion procedures."

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