Recent abortion votes show troubling trend among Catholics
Most discussion surrounding the midterm elections on Nov. 8 centered on winners, losers and why they won or lost. Not much attention has been given to the results of referenda in five states — California, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont — that decided how those states will handle abortion.
Everywhere, efforts to restrict abortion lost. It may be a trend. During the summer, voters in Kansas chose to make abortion legal and available to anyone in their state.
Several considerations come to mind. In three of the states recently voting — California, Michigan and Vermont — Catholics are many, constituting the largest religious group in each state. Jefferson County, Kentucky, where Louisville is situated, which is historically one of the most heavily Catholic communities in America, went well over 2 to 1 for abortion. How did Jefferson County Catholics vote? No data is available, but looking at the overall vote, it is only logical to assume that many were for legal abortion.
No analysis so far has revealed how Catholics voted overall, but considering the numbers supporting abortion on demand, some Catholics, probably many, wanted no limits on abortion. Therefore, it seems obvious that many Catholic Americans at least favor exceptions to the Church’s strong, consistent and outspoken opposition to abortion.
Two factors lie in the background. Catholics live in, and are flooded by, the overall culture, without question taking their cue from conventions around them. They fall in line. This is nothing new. Catholic Americans supported slavery. The list is long.
Also, now at play beyond the decline in regard for Church teachings in any one instance is, going farther and deeper, slipping respect for religion itself. This is a serious problem not just for the Catholic Church but for Protestant, Jewish, Orthodox, Muslim and others.
Some commentators remarked about another demographic in the recent votes on abortion. In all five states, young voters, 18-35, went decidedly against limiting abortion. This is no surprise. The elephant in the middle of the religious room is the weakening appeal of any religion among youth.
We cannot fiddle while Rome burns. No one knows what will extinguish the fire, but unless a more concerted effort to recapture youth is undertaken, and is successful, the future of America, Catholicism, and of American religion in general, will be very different from what was once the case.
Nothing is inevitable. Some antidotes show promise. Across the country, Catholic ministries on public college campuses have proved their worth, but getting Catholic students simply to visit these centers is the challenge.
Catholic youth, even after years of Catholic elementary and secondary education, and Catholic young people in Catholic schools are a distinct minority within the total, are being swallowed by the culture. So, “living together,” in intimacy, without marriage, is a way of life for Catholic youth. So is artificial birth control. Total disinterest in, often disdain for, religious practice quickly is becoming the norm.
If statistics are believed, and nothing suggests that all are unfounded, many Catholics have abortions, as do Americans of other traditions. Catholics resorting to abortion for themselves are younger. They are of child-bearing age. Why, realizing all the pressures enveloping young people from Catholic backgrounds, would anyone expect them automatically to follow Church teachings regarding abortion?
These votes encouraged the pro-abortion faction in the country. Politicians will react to save their own jobs. History is peppered with cases of politicians who changed their minds on issues for political advantage.
More states may put the question of abortion directly to the people. If constitutional standards are observed, their votes cannot be overruled. Opinions of politicians in Washington or in state capitals will not matter that much. Americans who respect human life will have to fight in a new arena.
The big picture is that religion, and Almighty God, are being forgotten.
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s chaplain.