New Mexico Catholic Archbishop John C. Wester swiftly criticized a state lawmaker this week after she claimed her Catholic faith was the reason she opposed a late-term abortion ban.
State lawmakers rejected a bill in committee Sunday that would have prohibited late-term abortions after 20 weeks when strong scientific evidence indicates unborn babies can feel pain. The bill died in a 3-2 party-line vote. The committee also rejected a second bill that would have required parents to be notified before a girl under 18 has an abortion.
One of the three Democrats, New Mexico state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, claimed she voted against the bills because of her Catholic faith – a statement that angered many Catholics, including the archbishop.
Roybal Caballero defended her votes, saying: “My Catholic faith teaches me women and men have the right to make their own decisions based on the dictum of their own consciences. I respect life in all forms, and I firmly believe these very deep and personal, complex decisions must remain with the woman, her doctors, her family and her faith, and certainly not in the chambers of government.”
Local Catholic leaders’ response came swiftly. According to the New Mexico Political Report:
Her statement apparently perturbed Santa Fe Archbishop John C. Wester. During public testimony on the parental notification bill shortly after Roybal Caballero made her remarks, New Mexico Conference of Catholic Bishops Executive Director Allen Sánchez told lawmakers he had just gotten off the phone with Wester, who had a message to tell them.
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“We must use our conscience, and he agrees with that, but it needs to be a formed conscience,” Sánchez said. “A lack of formed conscience can create havoc and problems. Especially when a public or elected person identifies themselves as Catholic and uses that to justify a vote for abortion, that person—and this is a teaching across across the whole Church—is themselves separating themselves.”
The Catholic Church is very clear about its position on abortion: Every human life is valuable and deserving of protection from conception to natural death. Yet, some politicians who say they are Catholic consistently oppose even moderate abortion regulations. Some of the most prominent include House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Tara Shaver of the pro-life group Protest ABQ said the New Mexico legislature has been obstructing pro-life legislation for years. She said more than 250 people attended a church service Sunday at the State Capitol before the committee hearing.
“It was a historic event sponsored by New Mexico Prays,” Shaver said. “After the prayer and worship service, those in attendance had the opportunity to attend the House committee hearing which was very eye opening for many. Evangelicals were finally able to witness what we’ve witnessed for years, a legislature that does not work for the people and is not seeking justice for the pre-born babies in our state.”
Despite listening to hours of public comments from pro-lifers, the committee rejected both bills. On Thursday, the committee also blocked a bill that would have required doctors to provide life-saving medical care to babies born alive after botched abortions.
Polls consistently show strong public support for these moderate abortion regulations. A November poll found 68 percent of voters support a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, including 78 percent of young adults and 67 percent of women.