restricted access Abortion Politics: The Context of the Cuomo-O’Connor Debate, 1980–1984

New York’s Catholic Governor Mario Cuomo (1932–2015) personally affirmed the Church’s position on abortion; however, his “pro-life” convictions did not translate into public policy, believing he should not impose his religious beliefs on others. As a pro-choice politician, Cuomo clashed with New York’s Archbishop John J. O’Connor (1920–2000) in 1984 over abortion and the role of the Church and its members, including politicians, in advancing “pro-life” measures. The ensuing Cuomo-O’Connor debate must be viewed in the context of other abortion-related discussions between 1980 and 1984, including the unsuccessful attempt to pass a human life amendment, the divide between American bishops and their new allies in the “religious right,” the bishops’ pastoral letter, The Challenge of Peace, and Chicago Archbishop Joseph Bernardin’s “consistent ethic of life” teaching. Cuomo, in voicing his personal opposition to abortion, yet refusing to impose the beliefs on others, skillfully walked a tightrope between his Catholicism and his politics even as O’Connor questioned how he could profess to be both a Catholic and govern as a pro-choice elected official.