As a bioethicist, I read Bishop Robert Barron’s commentary on New York’s Reproductive Health Act and the Mario Cuomo legacy, as an accurate reflection of how political theory has been distorted to justify violence against women and the unborn, and the morally abhorrent brutality of late-term abortion procedures.
Governor Andrew Cuomo codified existing abortion protections under Roe v. Wade, struck abortion from the penal code, and loosened prior restrictions. Therefore, it is important to reflect on historical harm to public policy, disfigurement of Christian witness, and moral cowardice in the public square. It is equally important to recognize erroneous claims in reproductive justice rhetoric, euphemistic language, and the public opinion opposition to abortion “rights”.
St. Thomas Aquinas’ ethics on the unity of the infused virtues also illumines the problem of the moral fragmentation we see in American politics. The respect and protection due to the human person from the first moment of human existence is not anti-society, anti-science, or anti-woman. Consequently, education is a key component in engaging pro-choice arguments which propose direct abortion as health care. When difficult medical decisions must be made to preserve the health and life of the mother, direct abortion is morally illicit. Life-threatening risks require sound diagnosis, proper medical management, and moral prudence; to ensure medical care is provided in accord with the human dignity of the fetus (or pre-nascent child) and the mother. The Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) for Catholic Health Care Services provide guidance on maternal-fetal conflicts.
Moreover, an American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists’ consensus opinion defined “periviable birth as delivery occurring from 20 0/7 weeks to 25 6/7 weeks of gestation,” at or near viability. Thus, physicians acknowledge live birth, at or near viability, may be a life-saving option for both mother and baby in grave danger. The unintentional and foreseeable death of the baby, due to serious medical conditions, may result. The effort is not futile, however. In the effort to save both lives, medical care is profoundly humanized, by prioritizing the intrinsic value of human life and the nobility of motherhood — to do good and avoid harm.
Even in instances of life-limiting fetal diagnosis, perinatal hospice can be provided to families, to support and console them in their journey. Pre-natal children diagnosed with a fatal trisomy or catastrophic anatomical defects are not less human. Many families have but a few precious moments to embrace their little one after birth. Their experience is one of gift, even amid their profound grief and loss. Their stories are rarely publicized in social media.
Lastly, a Gallup poll confirmed Americans’ views on the legality of abortion, which “plummets after the first trimester.” Many non-religious pro-life groups acknowledge what Catholic teaching has proposed about the right to life for millennia, as the foundation of all human rights. As other states follow New York’s treacherous path, the effort to humanize medical care, confront false premises, and provide social support to at-risk families is an act of courage and hope in an age of political nihilism.