No Saints Here
“Conservative Catholic influence in the USA” underscores how far to the right the political orientation of the Republican Party has shifted in the last 40, or even 20, years. Republicans of the past made a stand for church and state separation. When asked to place “In God We Trust” on a soon-to-be minted $20 gold coin, Theodore Roosevelt said, “My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege….” This contemporary crescendo of ultraconservative, publicly religious officials has left more traditionally oriented Republicans relatively invisible.
Politicians and the electorate certainly can evolve on these issues. Over the last decade we have seen attitudes towards abortion and contraception trend towards more popular Republican support and greater hostility from Republican politicians. According to Pew, nearly 40 percent of Republican voters are leaning prochoice, as opposed to less than 30 percent 10 years ago. This shift in public opinion, however, has been met with antichoice hostilities.
One consideration for those seeking and serving in public office and their religious affiliation: there are no saints here. While the notoriously antiabortion former Indiana governor and current US vice president Mike Pence changed denominations from what he called “evangelical Catholic” to simply “evangelical,” neither of the two most recent vice presidential candidates from the Democrats (both of whom are Catholic, incidentally) have been stalwarts of prochoice policy. Former vice president Joe Biden was conspicuously inconsistent in his legislative voting record on contraception and abortion, including voting in 1982 for a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade. As for Tim Kaine’s history, while recently he has sought to brand himself as a prochoice champion, his record is rather tepid. In Kaine’s 2005 Virginia gubernatorial bid, NARAL considered his statements and executive actions and withheld endorsing him, despite denouncing his opponent, Jerry Kilgore, as “extremely anti-abortion.”
With long-term legislative inconsistency from Democrats and Republicans alike, and politicians pushing policies that are exceedingly hostile to women’s health, it can appear quite bleak for prochoice advocates. This bleakness is matched in the current administration with a cadre of Catholic, rampantly antiabortion advisers. However, sentiments are changing among Republican voters and everyday Catholics. Organizations like Catholics for Choice are both a testament to this change and a vital mechanism for influencing greater shifts in this direction.
Partner, Johnson, Rogers, & Clifton