From the media coverage of Catholics during the 2020 presidential campaign, you’d think that the only ones who vote—or perhaps the only voters who matter—are ordained men obsessed with abortion.
The results of the November election show, however, that the majority of Catholics did, in fact, vote for the nation’s first pro-choice Catholic president.
It’s often said Catholicism is a “big tent” religion, and it’s certainly true of Catholic voters. We’re a diverse group, reflecting a broad range of political and demographic categories. But the fact is, abortion simply isn’t a top priority for the vast majority of Catholic voters, and when asked, they will tell you that they, like President-elect Joe Biden, don’t want to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
A national survey of Catholic voters, conducted from October 26 to November 3 by polling firm GBAO, found that their votes were driven not by the abortion debate but by concerns about the economy, health care, and the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the same issues cited by much of the broader electorate. As far as reproductive health is concerned, Catholics are nearly twice as likely to vote for a candidate who supports access to safe, legal abortion than a candidate who doesn’t, and they overwhelmingly reject the practice of denying Holy Communion to Catholics who support abortion access.
Of the 70 million Catholics in the United States, only 300 are bishops—so we ask that policymakers listen to the people in the pews a bit more than the celibate men in the pulpit.
Biden and the 117th Congress should know that Catholics in the United States not only support safe and legal abortion access but also believe that insurance companies should be required to offer plans that include birth control coverage and support in-vitro fertilization, as well as the use of stem cells in the development of medical treatments. We also think that no one should be denied the abortion care they need because they’re enrolled in Medicaid or other public health insurance programs.
The intersection of reproductive health and poverty doesn’t stop at the U.S. border.
The Trump administration’s unprecedented expansion of the Reagan-era “global gag” rule, which forbids foreign nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive federal family-planning aid from performing or providing information about abortion, is an egregious example of how values not shared by a majority of Americans, or even most Catholics, are used to control pregnant people around the globe. Far from serving people in need, Trump’s expanded version of the gag rule has already done profound damage to providers, community health workers, and, of course, anyone in need of comprehensive reproductive health care. The sick are sicker and the poor are poorer because of it.
In a New York Times op-ed last month, Michael Wear, who served in what was then the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships during the Obama administration, suggested the Biden administration go slow on overturning the global gag rule. Such a move, he said, would both make religious conservatives feel less embattled and help Biden signal that he is “uninterested in promoting a new round of culture wars.”
I’m not sure Wear realizes how cruel and craven his suggestion is. The gag rule has done untold harm to the bodies of pregnant people who should not be forced to suffer another minute because of an ideological battle waged largely by white, wealthy hierarchs, legislators, and pundits. Catholic social justice doctrine teaches that caring for the poor and marginalized should be our first priority. Denying anyone reproductive health care of any kind is to deny them of their human rights. Overturning this oppressive policy is a matter of life or death.
Biden has said his Catholic faith is the basis of his belief that everyone is entitled to dignity and that the poor should be given special preference. But I worry about the extent to which he’ll act on that promise. Using abortion rights as a bargaining chip to “reach common ground” is too often put on the table when a Democrat wins the White House. Culture warriors like the bishops will never be appeased, so those of us who care about justice should stop trying.
We will proudly welcome our pro-choice Catholic president on January 20. But we implore him to fully embrace that identity, which would not only acknowledge the millions of U.S. Catholics who agree with and voted for him but also support the fundamental humanity of pregnant people everywhere. He has the mandate and the faith. He needs to act on both.