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Catholics lobby Albany as abortion fight brews

Wednesday, March 20, 2013 - Updated: 4:30 PM

ALBANY (AP) -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan, in a blog from Rome on Tuesday, called for a "culture of life" in New York, while a fight over abortion rights is brewing in Albany as one of the bigger conflicts of the last half of this year's legislative session.

Dolan said he's seeking "to build a culture of life in New York by providing real choices for pregnant women and girls who may find themselves pressured to abort, and who so often suffer quietly for years afterward as a result.

"Surely, we can find some area of agreement among our elected leaders to help those who make the heroic choice to keep their babies, as well as those who have already aborted and need love, compassion and healing to move forward with their lives," he wrote from Rome, where he was part of the installation Mass for Pope Francis.

Dolan's comments came as Catholic bishops were making their annual lobbying visit to Albany. They heard from the group Concerned Clergy for Choice, which praised the women's rights agenda, including a promise to strengthen abortion laws, that Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlined in his State of the State address. The group called Cuomo's agenda the total approach women need to achieve full workplace equality and to escape poverty.

The abortion issue is soon expected to take center stage in the Legislature after the state budget is adopted in coming days.

Senate Republican Leader Dean Skelos and the state Conservative Party say Cuomo's promise means abortion would be legalized until the day of birth through what opponents call "partial-birth abortion," in which the fetus is partially extracted before being destroyed.

The Democratic governor denies that. In January, he supported a woman's complete right over her own body in a fiery passage in his State of the State speech.

He wrapped the abortion rights measure with nine other issues that protect women's rights in the workplace and when they are victims of crime. He has coalesced advocates who reject suggestions that they could easily win legislative approval of nine of the elements. Because Cuomo has tied all the issues together, the abortion proposal might block the whole package.

In a crescendo in the speech, Cuomo implored: "Protect a woman's freedom of choice. Enact a Reproductive Health Act because it is her body, it is her choice."

Since then, he has said his bill would simply codify abortion rights under the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which protects late-term abortions, in case the 1973 ruling is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cuomo, however, has still not released his bill.

After meeting with Cuomo, Catholic bishops said the governor didn't detail his abortion proposal.

"It's very difficult to comment specifically on a bill that hasn't been proposed," Albany Bishop Howard Hubbard said. He the bishops support the other nine elements of Cuomo's women's rights agenda.

The Rev. Tomi Jacobs-Ziobro of Cortland County, part of the Concerned Clergy for Choice abortion rights group, said she believes Cuomo has been consistent and his 10-point proposal best serves women.

"As far as the Catholic church is concerned, we can't legislate church doctrine," she said. "The governor chose to make it one agenda and I applaud him for it ... it treats the woman as a whole person -- body, mind, soul and workplace. It's the whole package."

Dolan and other abortion rights opponents are arguing their position best protects women, from female fetuses who are aborted and women who suffer anguish after having an abortion.

"I am a woman who survived an abortion," said Melissa Ohden of Kansas, who said she survived her mother's attempt to have an abortion.

"Partial-birth abortion is an abortion method created specifically to ensure that 'mistakes' like me don't happen again," she said. "I come to speak for the children. I am the voice for the voiceless. While the governor promotes 'women's equality,' he neglects equality and justice for the infants."

Ohden was lobbying with the conservative New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms group.


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