The presidential primary season is now in full swing, with attention focused on the Democratic Party’s contest to pick its challenger to President Donald Trump.
And while it’s far too early to predict the Democratic winner, one lamentable fact is already beyond dispute: The party, which for many decades commanded the political loyalties of the majority of Catholic voters, remains poles apart from the Church’s teaching about the sanctity of human life, with respect to abortion.
In fact, the primary campaign has seen the party venture even further into pro-abortion absolutism than in previous presidential election cycles. All of the candidates have endorsed wholeheartedly the party’s abortion-rights orthodoxy, with current front-runner Bernie Sanders taking the most extreme position of all. Speaking at a Feb. 8 campaign forum hosted by abortion activists, he declared support for abortion “is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat.”
But Sanders’ “pro-lifers aren’t welcome” declaration is only marginally more extreme than the stance of Pete Buttigieg, who, unlike Sanders, is often represented as a Democratic moderate. When asked at a town hall in January by Democrats for Life’s president, Kristen Day, whether he wanted the support of pro-life Democratic voters like herself, Buttigieg dismissively replied, “I am pro-choice. And I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision.”
Even candidates such as Amy Klobuchar and Joe Biden, who are held up as relative moderates on abortion because they don’t publicly stipulate that support for abortion on demand should be a requirement of all Democrats, have been unwilling to express any substantive openness to additional legal restrictions on abortion — not even on late-term abortions, which are opposed by the large majority of Americans.
This collective position represents a huge departure from the “safe, legal and rare” stance Democratic President Bill Clinton employed in his own presidential election campaigns in the 1990s, which still informed Democratic policy to some degree until quite recently. Not any more.
And the current pro-abortion extremism is so incompatible with pro-life conviction that Fordham University theologian Charles Camosy felt impelled in conscience to resign last month from the board of Democrats for Life and shift from the Democratic Party to the American Solidarity Party.
The final straw, Camosy explains in a Feb. 6 New York Post column titled “The Democratic Party is telling millions of pro-lifers to get out,” was listening to Buttigieg’s town hall comments.
“Here was a mainstream Democratic candidate suggesting, at one point, that abortion is OK up to the point the baby draws her first breath,” he commented. “When I heard that, I realized we were fighting a losing battle.”
Various factors can be cited as contributing to the Democrats’ polarizing “pro-choice” political orthodoxy, prominent among them the millions of dollars that Planned Parenthood funnels to pro-abortion-rights Democratic candidates and a pervasive misunderstanding of women’s rights that posits that abortion helps women, rather than injures them.
The U.S. bishops, for the last several election cycles, have thoughtfully and eloquently rebutted the claims of the abortion lobby through their “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” document, which continues to specify that protecting the lives of unborn babies from abortion remains the “preeminent issue” that Catholic voters need to consider when it comes time to cast their ballots. And it should be noted that Pope Francis recently endorsed this assessment of abortion as the preeminent American political issue.
So how should faithful Catholics, who embrace the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of life but who don’t necessarily view the Republican Party as an acceptable alternative, respond to the current political context? The principled action of Camosy, who rejects both major parties, stands in striking contrast to Joe Biden, who is also Catholic but who over the course of his long political career has been willing to progressively abandon his stated pro-life convictions in order to advance his political ambitions.
As noted in our article about Biden’s candidacy, it’s increasingly dubious that Biden will profit politically from bowing down to the abortion lobby. Not only does it appear that his pro-abortion capitulations are failing to attract support of progressive voters during the primary campaign, should he manage to secure the nomination, his acceptance of the Democratic Party’s polarized position on abortion could fatally impair his capacity to forestall the potential desertion of millions of Democratic Party pro-lifers who likely will be needed if their party is going to win the White House in November.
Indeed, that’s the case for whoever wins the Democratic nomination, as Camosy pointed out in his New York Post commentary.
It is commonplace for those situated on all points of the political compass to decry the intense polarization of contemporary U.S. political discourse, and very justifiably so.
Nowhere is this polarization more evident at this moment than in the rigorously pro-abortion politics of the Democratic Party — and it’s a polarization that is almost as much at odds with the party’s own history as a “big-tent” political coalition as it is with Christian conviction regarding the preciousness of every human life.