At the same time that this pandemic crisis is whirling around us, it is important not to become so distracted so as to ignore the world that continues “in the background.” For example, the New York State budget passed on April 3 included a measure to legalize commercial gestational surrogacy. This was a high priority advocated by the governor despite strong opposition by the New York State Catholic Conference. The law allows monetary compensation for a woman to carry a pregnancy intended for another couple — essentially, a mother’s womb may now be rented in New York. Although recently such “commerce” has gained wider acceptance across the globe, it is gravely problematic. It is a most natural human desire to have children and one that is pleasing to God when we are open and encouraging to life. However, when it is taken out of the natural order of God’s divine plan for love between a husband and wife, it becomes exploitative and displeasing to God.
Under commercial gestational surrogacy, human life is produced in a laboratory through in vitro fertilization (IVF), which itself entails dangerous risks to the egg donor, but also violates the divine meaning of the marital act, that is, the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of sexual union. The storing or discarding of unused embryos and selective reduction of excess pregnancies (i.e. abortion) are hallmarks of IVF that highlight the disregard for human life inherent in the process. Every child has the right to be created in the loving embrace of his mother and father, not a step-wise scientific protocol; moreover, human dignity would also dictate that a child (as well as the woman’s womb) should not be the object of a financial transaction. The casualties are threefold:
- women are exploited for their eggs and their wombs, with a particular risk to those who are socioeconomically challenged and may be coercively enticed by a price tag that undermines their health and their dignity;
- children are treated as property rather than the supreme gift of sacramental marriage – in some cases there could be a bewildering three sets of parents potentially identified for a child: the egg and sperm donors, the child-bearing woman and her spouse, and the adoptive parents;
- the family, that is what St. John Paul II called the sanctuary of life, is fractured and distorted by human will – and ultimately our culture suffers.
The “Boss Bill”
In November of 2019, the “Boss Bill,” long promoted by Planned Parenthood, was signed into law in New York State. This law requires that all employers, without exemption, must not discriminate against a job candidate who holds beliefs and behaviors regarding “reproductive health issues” contradictory to the mission of the organization and cannot require an employee to submit to a moral code of conduct. This law was targeted directly at religious organizations. For example, a Catholic pregnancy center would be prohibited from discriminating against a job candidate for office manager because she had just arranged an abortion for her pregnant teenager.
Other pending legislative threats to human life and dignity in New York include:
- Assisted Suicide. In this bill, a person with a so-called terminal condition would be allowed to take a lethal prescription, ordered by a physician, with the intention to take his own life. Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia are always morally wrong because all human life, even in its most debilitated state, is sacred – it must be supported with love and true compassion, not abandoned to the ultimate despair of self-annihilation.
- Human Papilloma Vaccine (HPV) Mandate. This would require all children over eleven years old to receive the HPV vaccine intended to prevent a sexually transmitted disease that in some cases can lead to cancer. Although there are valid concerns that the vaccine could promote promiscuity and is not protective against other risks, there can be morally legitimate reasons some parents might choose to vaccinate their children. The objectionable aspect here is that such a mandate undermines the parental right to determine what is best for one’s own children. It is also blatantly inconsistent with other laws that require parental consent for body piercing, tanning salon services, etc. in minors.
- Legalization of Prostitution. This would make it legal to buy and sell sex under most circumstances. This would decriminalize an industry that is notorious for abuse and violence. Like the surrogacy issue, it also profits from the commodification of human beings and strips any notion of human dignity from these victims.
- Legalization of Marijuana. Marijuana possession was decriminalized last year but this bill calls for the full legalization of recreational marijuana and creates a tax-generating market for it. Legalizing marijuana (which is known as a “gateway” drug to other addicting substances) seems particularly irresponsible in the midst of an epidemic of opioid addiction. There are concerns that usage by minors will increase, suicide rates could escalate, and that accidental injury and death “under the influence” will rise with legalization of marijuana.
- Emergency Contraception on Campus. This would require all public college and university settings to provide information promoting emergency contraception drugs. The moral concerns here revolve around increasing sexual risk-taking behaviors, encouraging this as a form of birth control, and ignoring that none of these agents protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Most of all, the propaganda on campuses explicitly insists that these agents do not cause abortion, but this is only because the language used by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that pregnancy (conception) has not occurred until implantation of an early embryo on the uterine wall, even though an early embryo exists before implantation and can be extinguished by any of these emergency contraception methods. Emergency Contraception is indeed abortifacient, even if the language has been manipulated to disguise this fact.
- Prolife Pregnancy Centers Disclosure. This legislation would mandate a government-designed statement for pregnancy centers to disclose that they do not provide abortions– i.e. this is a case of targeted coerced speech (forcing language to a specific group). In 2018, the Supreme Court in NIFLA v. Becerra, overturned a similar law in California on the grounds it violated the constitutional right to free speech of life affirming pregnancy centers.
Is this what we want for New York? We must remain vigilant and oppose these legislative issues. Most of all, we have a responsibility to know what our elected officials are proposing and oppose bills when they are not morally legitimate. It is a crucial element of proper conscience formation to know the legislative issues, and know where political candidates for office stand on them, for our votes in the election booth can directly translate into the passage (or not) of unjust, immoral legislation.
It must be stressed that there are many issues on which two faithful people, passionate in their convictions, can hold diametrically opposite positions and yet both can be morally legitimate. However, issues that involve the sanctity of human life and the incomparable dignity it holds are not negotiable; that is, in matters of human life, especially in the most vulnerable stages at the beginning and end of life, two faithful people cannot hold opposite views that are simultaneously morally legitimate. Abortion, euthanasia and all that corrupts the sanctity of marriage and the creation of life are intrinsically evil and cannot be justifiable or approached with compromise. Voting for candidates who hold positions that endorse these evils is morally problematic and is rarely, if ever, justifiable. To do so, one must ensure a meticulous formation of conscience and perform a most scrupulous evaluation of competing interests that determines the issues are proportionate in gravity—that is, equally “non-negotiable” (and more often they are not). For example, if both candidates support abortion, but only one also endorses euthanasia, one might be able to justify a vote for the candidate who does not also support euthanasia. It can get complicated, but it is worth understanding the issues, the candidates’ platforms, our moral duties, and what is at stake—in this world and the next!
“What have you done?” (Gen 4:10) How we vote matters because how our elected officials legislate determines whether we are a land of just laws—or not. One day will we will each be judged for what we ourselves did and did not do, and that will include the votes we cast that enable legislators and officials to enact and enforce laws that build a culture of life—or a culture of death.
So, in these very serious of times, we implore Our Lady of the Rosary to intercede for us. As we begin to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, let us pray for strength and hope. But let us also beg her intercession that as we approach Pentecost, we may be humbly receptive to the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and use them to build the civilization of life and love that this world so desperately needs.