Cuomo Holding Women’s Equality Hostage for Abortion

A fight is brewing in New York, and women’s social equality is going to be the first casualty.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a 10-point Plan that is to be the Women’s Equality Act. Now let’s take a look at his 10 points:

  • Protect a Woman’s Freedom of Choice by Enacting the Reproductive Health Act
  • Achieve Pay Equity
  • Stop Sexual Harassment in All Workplaces
  • Allow for the Recovery of Attorneys’ Fees in Employment and Credit and Lending Cases
  • Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws
  • End Family Status Discrimination
  • Stop Source-of-Income Discrimination
  • Stop Housing Discrimination for Victims of Domestic Violence
  • Stop Pregnancy Discrimination Once and For All
  • Protect Victims of Domestic Violence by Strengthening Order-of-Protection Laws

Now, New York State has one of the country’s most permissive abortion laws…so I find it curious that the first point mentioned is about the Reproductive Health Act. The Reproductive Health Act, a major component of which is to relax even further access to third trimester abortions in New York State, has been around since 2007 and has yet to pass.  Pro-life groups and the New York State Catholic Conference have been fighting expansion of abortion funding and procedures. By attaching this to the Women’s Equality Act and placing it as the first priority listed on the Governor’s website, Andrew Cuomo has provided a clear example of wedding women’s equality primarily to one thing – abortion on demand — and in doing so diminishes the urgency and gravity of the other 9 issues listed.

Pay equity. Support for Victims of Human Trafficking. Ending Pregnancy Discrimination. Providing Housing Justice to Victims of Domestic Violence.

These are all clear and urgent matters of not only women’s equality but basic human rights. And now the Governor has decided to take 9 issues that should be clear points around which to rally for justice for women on the margins in New York, and instead, once again, reduced everything down to expanding access to abortion. Pro-life Democrats are calling for Governor Cuomo to remove this provision of the bill, as is the NY State Catholic Conference. But in all the pro-life responses I have seen today, none of them even mentioned the other 9 provisions of the bill we should all be positively fighting for. Why does the fight for justice for vulnerable women need to hinge on abortion on demand? Is that really what the women of New York State need?

Am I overreacting? I don’t think so – the Governors 2013-2014 budget also cuts all funding from the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation.  In her testimony to the State Legislature, Joy Griffith stated:

On behalf of our Board and the families we serve, the Maternity and Early Childhood
Foundation thanks you for supporting an economical and highly effective prevention program serving the needs of the most vulnerable families in our state for almost 30 years. We urgently need your commitment to support restoration of funding in the Department of Health Budget for the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation. Without your support, we face extinction because we are one of the 89 agencies that have been zeroed out in the proposed 2013-14 State Budget. We look to you to do what you have done for the past 30 years, protect the underserved young familiesliving in extreme poverty.

The Maternity & Early Childhood Foundation was founded in 1983 in response to the
significant number of teenage mothers and low income single-parent families who were receiving late or no prenatal care and needed information on parenting. Our mission is to ensure a safe and healthy birth of the child and the well-being of the mother by supporting and promoting services to those pregnant and parenting women who are most in need.

It is ironic that in 2011, the Maternity and Early Childhood Foundation honored the Governor’s mother, Mathilda Cuomo, who has been a longtime advocate for mothers and children.

Personally, I find it hard to swallow a bill that claims to be about women’s equality – including pay equity, ending pregnancy discrimination, family status discrimination–while the accompanying year’s budget cuts all state funding from a successful program which supports low-income and teenage mothers.

In her classic essay, “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda: The Case for Prolife Feminism,” Sidney Callahan argues that both pro-choice and pro-life feminists are committed to the full social equality of women. The problem, however, rests in whether or not full social equality can be achieved via abortion rights. Callahan argues it cannot. She points out:

Women’s rights and liberation are pragmatically linked to fetal rights because to obtain true equality, women need (1) more social support and changes in the structure of society, and (2) increased self-confidence, self-expectations, and self-esteem. Society in general, and men in particular, have to provide women more support in rearing the next generation, or our devastating feminization of poverty will continue. But if a woman claims the right to decide by herself whether the fetus becomes a child or not, what does this do to paternal and communal responsibility? Why should men share responsibility for child support or child rearing if they cannot share in what is asserted to be the woman’s sole decision? Furthermore, if explicit intentions and consciously accepted contracts are necessary for moral obligations, why should men be held responsible for what they do not voluntarily choose to happen? By prochoice reasoning, a man who does not want to have a child, or whose contraceptive fails, can be exempted from the responsibilities of fatherhood and child support. Traditionally, many men have been laggards in assuming parental responsibility and support for their children; ironically, ready abortion, often advocated as a response to male dereliction, legitimizes male irresponsibility and paves the way for even more male detachment and lack of commitment.

For that matter, why should the state provide a system of day care or child support, or require workplaces to accommodate women’s maternity and the needs of child rearing? Permissive abortion, granted in the name of women’s privacy and reproductive freedom, ratifies the view that pregnancies and children are a woman’s private individual responsibility. More and more frequently, we hear some version of this old rationalization: if she refuses to get rid of it, it’s her problem. A child becomes a product of the individual woman’s freely chosen investment, a form of private property resulting from her own cost-benefit calculation. The larger community is relieved of moral responsibility.

Governor Cuomo provides an example of this abdication of moral responsibility in favor of expanding access to abortion and state-funding for abortion. This is not the way to end pregnancy discrimination. It is not the way to end family status discrimination. It moves us even closer to what Callahan foretold:

Finally, through the potency of social pressure and the force of inertia, it becomes more and more difficult, in fact almost unthinkable, not to use abortion to solve problem pregnancies. Abortion becomes no longer a choice but a “necessity.”

Pro-life feminists, Pro-life Democrats, and Catholic Democrats must fight back against treating expanding abortion in New York State as the linchpin to Women’s Equality. It is a political play that assumes these three groups will not fight against a bill with so much good. It is a place where a coalition can be built across divisions. But in fighting against the abortion provision, we must be fighting for the other 9 points listed on the Governor’s website. It is not enough to only block the abortion provision; passing the other 9 provisions must be a priority. The full human dignity and social equality of women depend on it.

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