ABITA SPRINGS, La.—Although retired at age 70, Ed Jeanfreau is working harder than ever before. He was working to educate Catholics about the very different positions held by Louisiana's pro-abortion incumbent, Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu, and her pro-life Republican challenger, Suzie Terrell.
The two Catholic women were set to face off on Dec. 7 for the 100th seat in the U.S. Senate.
“This is one of the most important elections in our lifetime,” said Jeanfreau, who directs pro-life activities for the Louisiana Knights of Columbus. “And we are doing everything we can to get the Catholic vote out.”
Jeanfreau directed his son to create an online pro-life resource called cpforlife.org, distributed more than 12,000 pro-life lawn signs and delivered hundreds of speeches to local Knights of Columbus councils around every swamp in Louisiana.
In the weeks leading up to the election, Landrieu's support for the abortion agenda got the attention of influential Catholics.
Danny Loar, executive director of the Louisiana Catholic Conference, maintained that with control of the Senate in Republican hands, the only real issue in the race would be abortion.
“I think it's a critical election. Unfortunately, a lot of Catholics in southern Louisiana think Landrieu is pro-life,” Loar said. “That is certainly not the case. Her voting record is certainly pro-abortion.”
Loar said that in talking with people across the state, he discovered that thousands of Catholics maintained that Landrieu is pro-life, despite her long record in support of abortion.
He said he understands why so many pro-life Catholics are confused.
“We sent a questionnaire to the candidates on a variety of issues. And they both responded. Landrieu answered all the questions as if she is pro-life,” he said.
The bishops' conference left each of Louisiana's seven dioceses to decide whether they want to publicize the questionnaires, and several opted against doing so.
With pro-life support divided, Loar expected a nail-biter on election night, similar to the race in 1996, which Landrieu won with less than half of 1% of the vote.
Jeanfreau said educating Catholics about each candidate's position on abortion is an uphill battle. Many Catholics remain more loyal to political parties than their own personal—often conservative—beliefs.
“Unfortunately, Catholics are Democrats by nature. They're union people and it's tough to get beyond that,” he said. “They just look for the letter by the name. They just vote for the D. We need to get beyond that mentality.”
That mentality is why so many pro-life Catholics are supporting pro-abortion candidate Landrieu, he said.
“She tries to say she's pro-family. She talks about her ban on cloning,” Jeanfreau said. “And she voted for the ban on partial-birth abortion, but only after she tried everything she could—with Tom Daschle—to water it down.”
Jeanfreau said Landrieu's support for abortion is proved by years of voting in the U.S. Senate, a record that earned her a 90% rating from Planned Parenthood, the organization that commits the most abortions worldwide.
Landrieu has unsuccessfully attempted to mandate taxpayer support for abortions and to allow abortions at U.S. military hospitals. She also voted in 1999 to affirm Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
Abortion Voters Unsure
Abortion activists appeared to be lukewarm about re-electing Landrieu. The pro-abortion group Emily's List removed its support for Landrieu after she voted for the ban on partial-birth abortion. Emily's List gives money exclusively to pro-abortion women running for office. It supported Landrieu in 1996.
Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League both refused to endorse Landrieu despite giving her 90% and 80% voting records, respectively.
The National Organization for Women offered its support but not its endorsement. An endorsement is reserved for candidates NOW describes as “not perfect on NOW issues but who are identified as women's rights supporters.”
Only the Women's Campaign Fund, a pro-abortion group, mustered a financial donation to Landrieu. It gave her $2,000.
Part of the reason for the tacit support by abortion groups has been Landrieu's tendency to use pro-life rhetoric to appeal to Catholic Democrats.
In a Nov. 24 debate, Landrieu emphasized her support for pro-family positions.
“I voted against late-term abortion,” she said. “I have promoted adoption. I respect life.”
John Maginnis, publisher of the Louisiana Political Fax Weekly in Baton Rouge, said the choices on abortion would be clear by Dec. 7.
“Anyone who is serious about the abortion issue hasn't much choice,” he said. “Pro-lifers from Tony Perkins to National Right to Life Committee have closed ranks behind Terrell. Perkins, who attacked Terrell's pro-life credentials, said after the primary that regardless of where she stood in the past, they know where she stands now.”
Maginnis referred to a 1994 Planned Parenthood event that listed Terrell as a co-sponsor. She said she wasn't aware of the fund-raiser and didn't support it.
“I've never been pro-choice,” Terrell said.
A new Catholic organization wants to make sure Louisiana Catholics will know about Landrieu's support for legal abortion and Terrell's defense of the unborn.
“For too long the pro-abortion forces of Emily's List, Planned Parenthood and NARAL have out-organized, out-fundraised and out-maneuvered the believers of the largest religious denomination in the United States,” said Joe Cella, executive director of Ave Maria List, which considers itself the exact opposite of Emily's List. It lends financial support to political candidates who affirm the right-to-life ethic.
“We are convicted that it is our moral obligation to Catholics to have an organized, unambiguous, effective, substantive and vocal presence to counter their efforts to promote a culture of death in our country,” he said.
The group focused on this year's Senate races in Minnesota, Missouri and South Dakota. In each case, it determined that the Democratic incumbent's views were out of step with the cultural conservative views of their constituents.
The same holds true in Louisiana, where Landrieu doesn't properly reflect the values of Louisiana voters, Cella said. And that's why the group is unleashing resources to educate Catholics in Louisiana about the differences between Landrieu and Terrell.
Jeanfreau applauds the efforts to educate Catholics about the candidate's positions on abortion.
“We're letting our members and their friends and their families know the importance of this election,” he said. “Louisiana is the most pro-life state in the country. And this is our last, best chance to get a better senator. The longer a senator stays in, the harder it is to get him out. How can we continue to elect a pro-abortion senator?”
Peg Kenny, spokeswoman for Louisiana Right to Life, was calling pro-life activists across the state while she prepared her family's Thanksgiving dinner. She had been up since 4 a.m. and was trying not to ruin the dinner.
“This is a real opportunity to put a pro-life woman in the U.S. Senate,” she said.
Her organization has been making phone calls and sending out literature in the mail to educate voters about Landrieu's pro-abortion record.
“When they see this information they'll say, ‘I thought Mary was pro-life,’” Kenny said. “It's an uphill battle, but it becomes very important that this literature gets out.”
Joshua Mercer filed this story
from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.