Pennsylvania is a rare state that votes Democrat in presidential elections but is more solidly pro-life than any state in the northeast. On Tuesday, however, pro-lifers in Pennsylvania took a beating, and so did the Culture of Life.

One of the top pro-life Catholics in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman Melissa Hart, was defeated, as were pro-life Congressmen Curt Weldon and Don Sherwood. Weldon and Sherwood, both pro-life Protestants, lost to pro-choice Catholics, Joe Sestak and Chris Carney, respectively.

Of course, the most important contest for pro-lifers was the Pennsylvania Senate race, between incumbent Republican Rick Santorum and Democratic challenger Bob Casey, Jr., both pro-life Catholics, but with important differences:

Santorum is almost certainly the strongest pro-life member of the Senate, a fierce opponent of abortion and a stalwart defender of life issues generally, particularly matters like embryonic stem-cell research.

His dedication to the cause was typified by an unforgettable moment on the Senate floor one day in October 1999, when he confronted Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif, on the issue of partial-birth abortion.

What if, Santorum asked Boxer, almost facetiously, in the course of the partial-birth abortion, the baby’s foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside — “could that baby be killed?” He repeated the question from the vantage of different body parts, prompting Boxer — caught in the absurdity of her position — to snap, “I am not answering these questions.”

Santorum did, however, get an answer from Boxer on this one: “[D]o you agree, once the child is born, separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed?” Boxer replied: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has rights.”

This was Boxer’s standard for when life begins — the frightening contradictions of which do not bother pro-choicers, so long as she supports legalized abortion. Her thinking illustrates the jaw-dropping moral relativism that Rick Santorum fought against.

Bob Casey, Jr., like his late father (a former two-term governor of Pennsylvania), opposes abortion, but, unlike Santorum, is hardly an across-the-board champion for life.

Especially worrisome is how Casey will vote for pro-life judges nominated by President George W. Bush. A very likely scenario would be that Bush announces a pro-life, strict constructionist judge only to have Casey reject the judge for a myriad of reasons separate from the justice’s position on abortion. This is a crucial point, since President Bush will likely get one more pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, and that pick will be the swing vote in a pro-life or anti-life court, where the future of Roe v. Wade is in the balance.

On Tuesday, challenger Casey crushed Senator Santorum in a landslide, 59-41%.

It will be said that Santorum lost on Tuesday because Casey overwhelmingly won moderates and independents, which is true, and because of opposition to the war in Iraq. The exit poll data on Iraq and terrorism generally is a bit confusing. What is clear, however, is that an unappreciated factor in Santorum’s crushing defeat was the failure of the 2004 “values voter.” Consider these telling statistics from CNN exit polling:

Those Pennsylvania voters who said that abortion should be legal voted for Casey over Santorum by a stunning margin of 77-23%, and those who believe that abortion should be “always legal” under any circumstance went for Casey 84-16%. These numbers are extremely significant.

We can also learn a lot from the data on religious voters:

Pennsylvanians who attend church weekly (41% of voters) went for Santorum by 53-47%, whereas those who attend only occasionally (40% of voters) went for Casey by a two-to-one margin, 65-35%. Those who attend church more than weekly (12% of voters) went for Santorum 65-35%, whereas those who say they never attend church (16% of voters) cast ballots for Casey 78-22%. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, secularists and atheists trounced the devout.

The breakdown among Catholics and Protestants is also interesting:

Casey easily won Pennsylvania Catholics by 59-41%, identical to the overall statewide vote. Those Catholics constituted one-third of all voters. Casey narrowly won Protestants by 51-49%. Protestants comprised 47% of Pennsylvania voters.

The Catholic Santorum, on the other hand, handily won Pennsylvania voters who describe themselves as “born-again” or as evangelicals, by 59-41%, and swept white born-again evangelicals 71-29%.

Overall, Tuesday, November 7, 2006, was not a good day for pro-life Pennsylvanians. Whether it is a terrible day ultimately depends on the state’s newest senator-elect, Bob Casey, Jr. We will get our answer if and when President Bush forwards his next candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.


Paul Kengor is author of The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2006) and associate professor of political science at Grove City College.