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Bishop uses Sunday Masses to oppose Cuomo abortion measure

Catholic leaders across the region on Sunday railed against the part of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s “women’s equality” package of bills that deals with abortion, calling it a “radical measure” that would expand the number of late-term abortions.

The governor introduced the package – composed of 10 separate provisions that deal with women’s issues, including a crackdown on sex trafficking and a push for equal pay between genders – last week in Albany. Cuomo has said the provision at issue would not expand existing abortion laws but would simply write the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision into state law in case the ruling ever gets reversed.

Catholic priests throughout the Buffalo area, however, fear that the legislation would, among other things, add a “broad and undefined health exception for late-term abortion,” as stated by a recording of Buffalo Bishop Richard J. Malone that was played or read during homilies in area Catholic churches on Sunday.

Though clergy said the Catholic Church supports the other nine provisions in the package, they urged their congregations to help defeat the bills by writing to the governor and state legislators. There is a link at the website that will compose a message of opposition and send it to Cuomo and members of the State Senate and Assembly.

“New York has become the abortion capital of the United States,” said the Rev. Seán Paul Fleming during Mass at St. John the Baptist in Kenmore, where there is a “Respect Life” sign outside.

“Not exactly something to be proud of,” Fleming said of New York’s abortion numbers.

Fleming called the abortion provision in the Cuomo package of bills “unconscionable.”

At the end of the homily, the church played Malone’s recording over the sound system.

“The position of the Catholic Church through every age is clear,” Malone said in the recording. “Life is sacred. Our focus is to enhance and promote the life and dignity of all human beings from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death.”

Malone worries that the bill would give the state Department of Health the authority to decide who can perform abortions, which would not necessarily limit the practice to health care professionals. He also warned that Catholic “medical and nonmedical” facilities, including schools and charities, could be compelled by state regulators to refer people for abortion or risk losing state contracts and licenses.

“We cannot allow this bill to go forward,” Fleming said during the homily. “Yes, the other nine points are good. The other nine points are fine. But that last point, we must stand firm as Catholics.”

After Mass, opinions were mixed among the parishioners. Jeannie Muscarella of Kenmore, who is a member at nearby St. Andrew’s Parish, agreed with Fleming’s message.

“It’s not really something that should be a law,” she said of the abortion measure, though she added that she would support the package if that provision were removed.

But Debbie Sontag of Tonawanda, whose daughter went to school at St. John the Baptist, disagreed. Even though she doesn’t condone abortion, she supports Cuomo’s bills and referenced the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

“There’s little kids in there, and they’re talking about abortion,” Sontag said, calling the homily “totally inappropriate.”

Outside of the church, Fleming stuck to his message, saying he is against abortion even in cases of rape. But he also acknowledged that abortion is a “difficult issue” and said the Catholic faith “does not simply call us to walk blindly through.”

“I’m realistic,” he said. “Not 100 percent of the people are going to agree with 100 percent of the church’s teachings 100 percent of the time.”

Cuomo has been pushing to get the “women’s equality” package of bills passed before the Legislature ends its 2013 session later this month.