Cardinal John O'Connor, Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, urged Presbyterian Church representatives meeting in Baltimore last night to work for changes in the law that permits 1.6 million abortions annually in the United States.
In an impassioned anti-abortion speech at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel sponsored by Presbyterians Pro-Life Research, Education and Care Inc., Cardinal O'Connor said the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision must be overturned for the same reasons that Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney's 1857 denial of citizenship to black slaves needed to be rejected.
Both were bad laws not in accord with Thomas Jefferson's dictum that the primary legal objective should be "the care of human life," he said.
Noting that Taney, a Marylander, was a Catholic "personally opposed to slavery," the cardinal recalled that it was Protestants, not Catholics, who led the fight for legal protections for blacks.
"Thank God for the Protestant ministers!" he declared.
He received a standing ovation from an audience of nearly 300, mostly Presbyterians. About 3,000 Presbyterians are attending a nine-day national convention in Baltimore.
Catholics in the audience included Baltimore Archbishop William Keeler, whose opposition to abortion drew strong praise from the cardinal. "I can't hold a candle to Archbishop Keeler in this regard," he said. The cardinal was invited to speak to the Presbyterians as chairman of pro-life activities for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Cardinal O'Connor said that lay people rather than the clergy of any denomination have led the fight against abortion. Specifically addressing the Presbyterian laity, the cardinal said, "We [the clergy] are not the ones who have kept the cause of human life alive. You have kept the cause alive."
He said he is sympathetic -- though not in agreement -- with people of conscience who see an abortion as a lesser of evils in some circumstances, such as a pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or one that endangers the mother's life.
"Even Planned Parenthood says that a maximum of 8 percent" of abortions in the United States meet those criteria, which means that "at least 92 percent are done for what we have to call reasons of convenience," the cardinal said.
Saying that changing laws "can change the hearts of people" -- he cited the laws making smoking more difficult -- the cardinal concluded that in judging the abortion issue "an informed conscience is the final arbiter, but it has to informed."