Catholic New York
Senate's failure to override Clinton veto
of abortion ban draws sharp criticism
By CLAUDIA McDONNELL
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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.
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