Shortly after signing a bill that strengthened the legal protections to an abortion on Jan. 22, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York was met with condemnation by his religious constituents, some of who called on the Cardinal of New York to excommunicate Cuomo. Cuomo himself is a Catholic, and responded to the criticism with the assertion that he is focused on keeping his religious beliefs separate from his style of governance, stating that “I don’t govern as a Catholic. I don’t legislate as a Catholic.”
The Catholic Church is an autonomous body and its adherents were well within their rights to express disapproval towards this newly signed legislation. However, given that most people who oppose abortion more often do hail from religious backgrounds, Catholics’ calls to excommunicate a public servant for his political decisions challenge whether or not secularism in this country is rightfully upheld. These pressures on the liberal ideal of secularism, exacerbated by rising religious activism, are indicative of a return to value-driven political participation rather than pragmatic and democratic governance. Unfortunately, too many politicians legislate with their morals as guidance rather than serving the interests of their consistency.
We live in a nation that has grass-roots in the separation of church and state, yet there’s been such a blatant hypocrisy in this sentiment, as seen in today’s political climate. One of the most prominent figures that come to mind at the mention of this contradiction is Vice President Mike Pence. Upon accepting his nomination to becoming vice president, Pence introduced himself as “Christian, conservative and Republican, in that order.” This statement totally goes against the idea coined by our Founding Fathers to keep the church out of politics, and we’ve witnessed firsthand the ways Pence’s devotion to his religion has seemingly influenced his politics. In addition to labeling New York’s newest abortion bill as a “call to action” for his pro-life base, Pence signed a bill in his time as governor of Indiana that placed major limits on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. The legislation was later ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court.
While it’s justified for the church to react to Governor Cuomo’s most recent bill in whatever way they want, politicians shouldn’t be governing with religion as their primary moral compass since doing so will compromise civic duty. It’s important to note that given the way religion is usually heavily intertwined with someone’s identity, it can be hard to set aside religion for the sake of public policy. However, the point of being a politician is serving the interests of the people and our foundation as a nation lies in being secular and allowing for religious pluralism. Perhaps if a legislator isn’t ready to set aside religion to properly enforce the basis of democracy, they shouldn’t be pursuing public service in the first place.
The media hasn’t exactly been helpful in properly characterizing the subject at hand, instead being lured into producing flashy headlines and exaggerated arguments. The policy that Cuomo received harsh criticism for has been coined as one of the most “aggressive” policies relating to abortion. Those who disapprove of this new bill have misinterpreted this policy as “killing of unborn babies up until birth.” In actuality, the law allows late-term abortion if the mother’s health is at risk. This bill also replaces an older piece of legislation, which only allowed late-term abortion if a mother’s life was at risk. So, while it does expand upon the legitimate reasons for getting a late-term abortion, by no means does it allow a woman to arbitrarily terminate her pregnancy in the third trimester. Additionally, late-term abortion already makes up only about 1.3 percent of abortions according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. To try and paint this new legislation as giving women more leeway to carelessly abort their unborn children is misrepresentation at its finest.
Getting into the other side of this debate, most people who support a right to abortion fall on the left of the political spectrum. The main issue that arises from being pro-choice is that a decision to protect abortion rights must be celebrated and depicted as a victory, when an abortion is the exact opposite of those things. Left-leaning media such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and politicians such as Hillary Clinton have described policies in the past that safeguarded abortion as “victories.” Allowing women legal access to an abortion should be seen as a basic right and a private matter, but in addition to that, one must keep in mind that abortion itself is never something to be cheered on. This celebratory attitude towards legislation allowing abortion shouldn’t be treated as a “win” or anything worth being overly gleeful over, as it ultimately represents a horrible and traumatic procedure for any expectant mother.
Because of how aggressively the subject of abortion is often displayed in news outlets, this makes way for the notion that Roe v. Wade is more at risk of getting overturned than it actually is. With an incumbent president who has publicly criticized Planned Parenthood and a conservative-leaning Supreme Court, abortion has become widely covered in the media, primarily in speculation of whether or not Roe v. Wade faces endangerment of being overturned.
Abortion has always been heavily debated, despite the fact that 71 percent of American voters expressed approval for Roe v. Wade. And while it’s definitely unsettling to see some of the world’s most influential politicians attempt to impose restrictions on a woman’s right to abortion, the legal battle behind trying to dismantle or even significantly limit the powers of Roe v. Wade is extremely tedious. In addition to the legal challenges that would surely arise from trying to undo a widely supported court decision, several states also have already taken action to protect legal access to an abortion if the Supreme Court were to follow through with a repeal of Roe v. Wade.
Governor Cuomo’s actions should be seen as an example of the many politicians out there who are caught at crossroads between wanting to govern based off of personally held values and wanting to serve the people of their constituencies. Politicians everywhere should look to Cuomo’s example and separate their governance from their personal convictions.