BOSTON--The Roman Catholic Church's top prelate in Massachusetts has condemned an abortion rights bill filed by Gov. William F. Weld, saying it would create "a culture of death" in the state.
But Weld said the measure was a politically conservative move in tune with his philosophy of keeping the government from interfering in the private lives of citizens.
Weld proposed the legislation yesterday that, among other provisions, would make it easier for teenagers between 16 and 18 to get abortions.
Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston, and Weld disagreed over other provisions. Law insisted the bill would virtually guarantee abortion on demand through the full nine months of pregnancy, while Weld aides said it would not change current legal restrictions on abortion access.
The bill would remove from the state's lawbooks statutes against abortion that have been struck down by federal and state courts, Weld said.
"In my mind, freedom of choice goes to the heart of the principles embodied in our Constitution, freedom from government interference in the private lives of citizens," Weld said.
"We must trust women to make this fundamental decision," Lt. Gov. Paul Cellucci said as he joined Weld at a news conference where the legislation was outlined.
The Weld initiative included lowering to 16 the age where parental consent would not be required for abortions. It also would allow abortions for girls under 16 if only one parent consented. The law now requires both parents to agree if both are living. Teenagers can appeal to courts if they cannot, or do not, want to seek parental consent.
At a rare news conference at his residence, Law read a statement on behalf of himself as archbishop of Boston and on behalf of the bishops of the state's three other Roman Catholic dioceses.
"As bishops of the four Roman Catholic dioceses in Massachusetts, we wish to state publicly our total and vigorous opposition to this devastating initiative that seeks to make Massachusetts the Commonwealth of death for the innocent," Law said.
Speaking to a reporter after the news conference, Law said he was convinced the bill would allow virtually unlimited access to abortion at any time during a pregnancy.
"We do not think that the best thing a society can do for a woman in a crisis pregnancy is to kill the unborn child within her womb," Law said.
Massachusetts Citizens For Life, the state's leading anti-abortion group, accused Weld of paying off election obligations with the bill. The Republican Weld received considerable support in the 1990 election from abortion-rights supporters.
At a separate news conference, Teresa Hanley, president of Massachusetts Citizens For Life, attacked Weld's position.
"It used to be popular for some politicians to kiss babies to win votes," she said. "Today we're seeing that some politicians will kill babies to win votes."
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