Profoundly saddened by the U.S. Senate's failure to ban partial-birth abortion last week pro-life leaders in the archdiocese pledged the efforts to end the procedure will continue.
The Senate on Sept. 18 failed by three votes 64-36, to gain the two-thirds majority needed to override President Clinton's veto of the partial-birth abortion ban.
Cardinal O'Connor, at his Sunday Mass in St Patrick's Cathedral Sept. 20, referred to the Senate action and called for prayers and reparation for "the sin of infanticide." Later that day in the cathedral, celebrating the 100th Anniversary Mass for the Graymoor Society of the Atonement, the cardinal referred to the Senate action and said, "God knows that here in our country we need atonement." He also noted the start of the Jewish New Year observance that culminates in Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement.
"We need atonement for all the sins…being attributed to the President of the United States. We need atonement for the greatest sin of all, perhaps, which has gone unnoticed: the validation in our land of that heinous crime of infanticide. The Congress of the United States has once again failed to override the presidential veto of this virtually indescribable act of the slaughter of the innocents." He asked the Atonement Friars and Sisters and all the faithful to pray for the United States.
Father John S. Bonnici, director of the Family Life/Respect Life Office, noted that the Senate's action came despite hard work by pro-life advocates.
"It's terribly distressing to see the Congress unable to override the presidential veto on partial-birth abortion, despite the great efforts of so many to present the truth regarding this horrific procedure of infanticide," he told CNY.
He added, "I'd like to express gratitude to those members of Congress who courageously sacrificed selfish interests for the sake of life." He said he hopes those who voted to keep partial-birth abortion legal will "come to their senses," and he pledged that advocacy will go on.
"We will continue to lobby persons directly related to the issue both in Congress and here in New York state in our ongoing effort to pass legislation that would prohibit partial-birth abortion," he said. "Educational efforts will continue full-strength."
Christopher T. Slattery, director of Expectant Mother Care and program director for the Legal Center for Defense of Life, said the vote was not a surprise.
"Pro-life people knew going in that they did not have the 67 votes (needed for an override)," Slattery said. "It's a crying shame that we're still three votes short." He said the only way the veto is likely to be reversed is "at the ballot box in November," when voters will have a chance to elect pro-life senators.
He praised Sen. Alphonse M. D'Amato (R) and Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D) of New York for voting to override, and said he was especially happy that Sen. Moynihan went "against his normal practice" of supporting legal abortion.
Bishop George E. Lynch, who has been jailed many times for his pro-life demonstrations, told CNY, "I'm very sad, as all pro-life people would be. It's simply more of the same." Observing that partial-birth abortion is infanticide, he added, "We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that every abortion is the killing of an unborn child."
Bishop Lynch and Brother Fidelis Moscinski, C.F.R., were acquitted of contempt of court after they blocked the driveway at the Women's Medical Pavilion in Dobbs Ferry in 1996. The government is now attempting to overturn the acquittal (CNY, Sept. 17).
Other religious leaders criticized the Senate's action.
"The vote distressed me a great deal," said Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua of Philadelphia, who said he was "sickened" when some senators simply gave a thumbs down signal for their nay vote.
Speaking to a handful of reporters, Cardinal Bevilacqua said "all abortions are horrible and barbaric," but he noted that when people realize the specifics of partial-birth abortion, which involves the partial, feet-first delivery of a fetus and the draining of its skull, they'll "see the basic truth that this is a human being."
He said the Church has always taught that you never, never, never have justification to kill an innocent person."
Father Frank Pavone, a priest of the New York Archdiocese and leader of the Priests for Life movement, said in a statement, "Some have opposed the ban because they do not want the slightest crack in the wall of the 'right to choose.' But saying that 'abortion rights include partial-birth abortion' actually reveals how morally bankrupt the whole notion of abortion rights is.
"Some lawmakers who oppose the ban identify themselves as Catholic. As an association of Catholic clergy teaching in union with our bishops, we clearly and vigorously repeat what the U.S. bishops said in their 1989 Resolution on Abortion, 'No Catholic can responsibly take a "pro-choice" stand when the "choice" in question involves the taking of innocent human life.' We are also ready pastorally to assist such individuals to overcome their difficulty in embracing Church teaching."
In a statement, Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee for Pro-Life Activities, called it a "national tragedy that it remains legal to kill infants who are almost fully born."
He said that "the vast majority of Americans do oppose partial-birth abortion," thanks to the efforts of "millions of prolife Americans" who worked for a ban. He also said he is confident that partial-birth abortions will be banned in the near future and said the nation's bishops will continue their efforts supporting such a ban "until this work has been accomplished."
Others who support a ban are confident that it won't be long before they garner enough votes to override any future vetoes.
"It will inevitably pass. The will of the American people will be heard," said Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., a Catholic, who sponsored the bill.
In July the House overrode the president's veto of the partial-birth abortion ban in a 296-132 vote. Congress first passed the federal ban on partial-birth abortions in 1995, and Clinton vetoed it. A year later, an attempt to override his veto failed. Congress passed a new ban last year, which was once again vetoed by Clinton.
During a press conference after the Sept. 18 vote, Santorum was joined by politicians and religious leaders who urged supporters to keep pressing this issue, particularly at the polls in November.
"We might have seen some of the last performances of some of these senators," said Gary Bauer, president of the Family Research Council.
On the Senate floor just moments before the roll call, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., pleaded with his colleagues to consider how the nation cares for the weakest members of society. "We should begin today to say that no one is expendable." he said.
Catholic News Service contributed to this story.