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Single-Issue Catholics

Bottom Line
by Marvin Bionat

A good number of Catholics are not voting for Obama, because they only have one litmus test for the candidates: pro-life or pro-choice. For them, nothing trumps the issue of saving the lives of unborn babies.

Therein lies the genius of the Republican Party’s decision to embrace the pro-life position of the religious right. Captive Catholic voters—those who buy the single-issue pitch hook, line, and sinker—willingly overlook the misdeeds of the Republicans, simply because they are the party that openly campaigns against abortion.

Are Republicans really more anti-abortion than Democrats? It is instructive to note that Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court justice who penned the Roe v. Wade decision (which overturned laws restricting abortion), was actually a Republican appointee. Ironically, the senior dissenting opinion was written by Byron White, who was appointed by JFK, a Catholic Democrat. And why is it, after 20 years of Reagan, Bush senior, and Bush junior, Roe v. Wade is still in the books? There are now seven Republican appointees in the Supreme Court versus only two appointed by Clinton—seven out of nine Supreme Court justices, and abortion is still legal! One inescapable suggestion is that, i n the cold calculus of political gamesmanship, it is actually in the best interest of the Republican Party to keep the abortion issue alive. By not bringing the issue to a close and thus by continuing to carry and wave the pro-life banner, Republicans are able to hold the same sway among single-issue voters, including a good chunk of the Catholic vote.

To be sure, no one can seriously believe the malarkey that the Democrats are the “party of death,” as some hard-core pro-life ideologues like to portray them. Democrats don’t go around advocating the termination of fetuses. Accusations that Obama supports infanticide based on a vote he cast in the Illinois State Senate are not based on fact. Even the Republican senator who sponsored the bill at issue (SB-1082, which contained language designed to protect infants who were born alive) has said, “None of those who voted against SB-1082 favored infanticide.” Obama did not support the bill, because the protection it proposed was already part of Illinois state law.

It should be noted that pro-Roe or pro-choice (not support for abortion per se) is really a right of privacy protection issue according to the landmark Supreme Court decision. The Roe v. Wade case was filed on behalf of “Jane Roe,” who reportedly got pregnant because of rape, and who the Supreme Court believed had the fundamental right to decide whether to keep the baby. McCain himself has long been perceived to be lukewarm in his pro-life position, essentially because he favors exceptions in cases of incest, rape, or when the life of the mother is at stake.

Both Obama and Biden (who is the only Catholic in the mix) favor legislation that will minimize cases of abortion. Douglas Kmiec, a prominent Reagan Republican who is staunchly against abortion, has publicly endorsed Obama’s candidacy, partly because he believes that Obama’s commitment to programs that will reduce abortion will have a much greater and immediate impact than reversing Roe v. Wade, which he, a lawyer who once wrote briefs aimed at overturning the Roe decision, believes will simply pass the decision back to the states and still allow legal abortion to continue.

Other Catholics have no problem supporting the Obama-Biden ticket, because the official position of the Catholic Church in fact allows for a much broader social world view. In “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes: “There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate’s unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons.” There are certainly other morally compelling grounds for supporting Obama’s candidacy and for junking the Republican ticket: the war in Iraq, which the Vatican has condemned as morally wrong and which has cost thousands of American and Iraqi lives; the culture of greed and corruption that has thrived under the watch of the Republican administration and has precipitated the current economic crisis; the continued lack of health care for millions of Americans; etc.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops also points out that while a “Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism,” such injunction applies only “if the voter’s intent is to support that position.” That clearly runs counter to the single-issue litmus test that captive Catholics are inclined to apply and vindicates Kmiec in his courageous decision to support Obama.

My bottom line: When I went to Catholic institutions in high school and college, I was immersed in the central Catholic doctrine that challenged me to make a “preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.” It meant taking the side of the marginalized and the dispossessed. In fact, we were taught that in the Final Judgment we will ultimately be judged according to how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, and the stranger (Matthew 25:31-46). With that as the backdrop, this political season has again drawn me to side of the Democratic Party, because, while the Republicans continue to focus on giving breaks to the rich and the powerful (and to pay what appears to be lip service to protecting the defenseless unborn), I have no doubt (after paying close attention t o the candidates and the issues throughout the campaign season) that it is the Democrats who have greater passion for the poor, the struggling middle class, and immigrants.


Know the truth behind the smears:
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Marvin Bionat is the creator of PhilippineUpdate.com, a news and views site that has served as a virtual platform that promotes various advocacies, including the political empowerment of overseas Filipinos and accountability in government. He wrote the National Bookstore bestseller How to Win (or Lose) in Philippine Elections (Anvil Publishing, 1998) and is now based in the U.S. working as an editor.

Other articles from the author:
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