Catholic, Pro-Life, and Voting for Obama?

Opinion   |   Michael New, Ph.D.   |   Nov 1, 2012   |   5:45PM   |   Washington, DC

As Election Day approaches, many media outlets, like clockwork, make an effort to convince pro-life voters to support Democratic presidential candidates. This year is no exception.

Last Friday, the Huffington Post ran an essay by University of St. Thomas law professor Thomas Reid entitled “Catholic, Pro-Life, and Voting for Barack Obama.” In his essay, Reid successfully manages to recycle the same tired talking points that his predecessors have made every election cycle since 2000.

Here is the template. 1) Claim that more generous social programs will reduce the abortion rate. 2) Use the lower abortion rates in Europe as an example for the United States to emulate. 3) Blame past Republican presidents for failing to overturn Roe v. Wade. The only trope Reid forgot is to blame President Reagan for the slight increase in the incidence of abortion during the 1980s while crediting Bill Clinton for the 1990s abortion decline.

Of course, these arguments are as flawed today as they were in previous election cycles. First, there is literally not one peer-reviewed study which shows that greater spending on welfare or any other government program is an effective strategy for lowering abortion rates. Second, Reid neglects to mention that most European countries offer better legal protection for the unborn than we do in the United States. Moreover, pro-lifers who think Europe’s model of more generous social programs is worth following should realize that the abortion rate in many European countries is rising, while the U.S abortion rate is falling.

Finally, it is true that Supreme Court justices appointed by Republican Presidents have not been able to overturn Roe v. Wade. However, these justices have offered constitutional protection to various pro-life laws. These include state-level parental-involvement laws and informed-consent laws, both of which have been able to lower abortion rates. Furthermore, every Supreme Court Justice appointed by a Democratic president since 1973 has clearly and publicly voiced their support for the Roe v. Wade decision. That trend is unlikely to change.



Many commentators realize that the Democratic party has a real problem with pro-life voters. They know the Democratic party’s support for legal abortion is hurting them with key demographic groups, including working-class whites and Catholics. Furthermore, this problem is likely to worsen as the pro-life position gains in the court of public opinion. It is unfortunate these commentators continue to mislead pro-life voters instead of encouraging Democrats to support real legal protection for unborn children. Note: Dr. Michael New is a political science professor at the University of Michigan–Dearborn and holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University. He is a fellow at Witherspoon Institute in Princeton, New Jersey.