Evangelicals Have Displaced Catholics As the Pro-Life Movement’s Base

Evangelicals Have Displaced Catholics As the Pro-Life Movement’s Base

[Reminiscent of the 2011 book “Where Have All the Catholics Gone?” – AQ Tom]

[Text of the preface, introduction and chapters one through seven at books.google.com/books?id=tArhDAAAQBAJ&pg=PR3&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false ]

In writing the original book and the revised text, I am constantly reminded that we are a house divided, and I feel deeply the lament of the psalmist who cried out: It is not enemies who taunt me- I could bear that; it is not adversaries who deal insolently with me- I could hide from them. But it is you, my equal, my companion, my faithful friend, with whom I kept pleasant company; we walked in the house of God with the throng. We Catholics are now a house divided. Not only that, we are in danger of becoming irreconcilably split. Perhaps all that is left is for schism, for the situation to be recognized, and for us to sadly move apart. While there is disquiet in my heart, there is at the same time great comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit is in charge of this oft-times cantankerous community, that whatever happens will be in accord with his will, and that is good. Whatever I say, it is said with loving concern, but I believe very strongly that “Catholic” is not a label to be worn but a life to be lived with direction from, and deference to, the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Catholic Church. – Father Michael Francis Dolan is a lifelong Catholic. He is a widower, father and grandfather. He is also a retired Naval officer and a medical doctor. He has a Master’s degree in biology from Johns Hopkins University. He was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Washington in 1997.
By Ed Kilgore – 4/25/18
In its beginnings the RightToLife movement was heavily concentrated among Catholics. Not so much any more. 

Looking at an article in the Washington Post about the frenetic activity in many states since 2010 aimed at enacting abortion restrictions, some in order to set up a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the American Prospect’s Harold Meyerson noticed a pattern, which he discussed in a subscription email to readers that I happen to receive.

Thirty-three states have enacted abortion restrictions since [2010], while just 17, plus the District of Columbia, have not.

What interested me about those two lists was the degree to which they didn’t align with the share of Roman Catholics in the states. The eight most heavily Catholic states—in order, Rhode Island (42 percent Catholic), Massachusetts (34 percent), New Jersey (34 percent), New Mexico (34 percent), Connecticut (33 percent), New York (31 percent), California (28 percent) and Illinois (28 percent)—were among the 17 that had not passed legislation curtailing abortion rights. Conversely, the 13 states with the lowest percentage of Catholics—in order, Mississippi (4 percent), Utah (5 percent), West Virginia (6 percent), Tennessee (6 percent), Alabama (7 percent), North Carolina (9 percent), Georgia (9 percent), South Carolina (10 percent), Kentucky (10 percent), Idaho (10 percent) and Virginia (12 percent)—were among the 33 states that have curtailed access to abortions since 2010.

In sum, the relationship between the number of Catholics in a state and the intensity of the state’s anti-abortion policies is completely inverse.

This fact might come as a surprise to people who still think of Catholics as the bedrock core of the right-to-life movement, as they undoubtedly were in the days immediately following Roe.

In fact, Catholic public opinion on abortion policy (as on most political topics) is pretty close to that of the country as a whole, which means marginally pro-choice. Here’s how the Public Religion Research Institute put it in a 2015 survey:

On the issue of abortion, Catholic attitudes generally mirror Americans overall. A majority (53%) of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 43% say it should be illegal. Among Catholics, a slim majority (51%) says abortion should be legal in all or most cases, compared to 45% who say it should be illegal.

more recent survey from Pew showed Catholics favoring the “legal in all or most cases” position by a slightly slimmer 48/47 margin. Both surveys showed that white Catholics — i.e., those significantly more likely to identify with the anti-abortion Republican Party — were more likely to be pro-choice than overwhelmingly Democratic Latino Catholics.

This is not — repeat, not — to say that there aren’t a lot of passionately active RTL adherents in the U.S. Catholic ranks, who can rely on the consistent support of the hierarchy and the Vatican (and yes, despite some RTL angst about his recent statement that defending the poor was as important as defending the “unborn,” Pope Francis hasn’t given much aid and comfort to pro-choice Catholics).

But there’s no question the religious community that is far more solidly in the anti-abortion camp is white Evangelical Protestants. In a 2017 survey that broke out this particular segment of the population, Pew found that 70 percent of white Evangelicals thought that all or most abortions should be illegal. Less than half of Catholics (44 percent), black Protestants (41 percent), white mainline Protestants (30 percent), and the unaffiliated (17 percent) agreed with this position.

This is remarkable in no small part because unlike Catholics, white Evangelicals have little traditional investment in the anti-abortion cause. They have no formal hierarchy, no teaching tradition, no papal encyclicals, and no “natural law” philosophy leading them in the direction of regarding abortion as grievously sinful. They purport to follow only the Bible, which never mentions abortion and only obliquely refers to fetal life. Evangelicals, moreover, were not as a group actively engaged in state efforts to keep abortion illegal prior to Roe; many (particularly among Southern Baptists, the largest white Evangelical denomination) favored “liberalized” abortion laws back then.

However you choose to explain the white Evangelical shift toward strongly anti-abortion views — as a moral “awakening” after Roe; a general rejection of liberalism and feminism; a nostalgic embrace of cultural conservatism in all its elements (including patriarchy); or a byproduct of a growing alliance with conservative politics — it’s unmistakable, and it has offset the gradual drift toward pro-choice views among Catholics.

Getting back to Meyerson’s observation, most of the states he notes as having small Catholic populations along with virulently anti-abortion policies also have large white Evangelical populations (there’s also Utah, with an LDS majority that is culturally conservative and also has a strong church hierarchy doctrinally opposed to abortion). And not coincidentally, they all (with the partial exception of Virginia) are currently Republican-run states.

The polarization of the two parties on abortion policy stems from multiple sources, but none is so powerful as the shift in the anti-abortion “base” from a Catholic population that is more or less split down the middle between the two parties (and if anything leans Democratic) to a white evangelical population that has become aligned with Republicans on a broad range of issues from civil rights to taxes to “size of government” to the cultural issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights that we associate with the Christian right.

So the archaic view of abortion as primarily a “Catholic issue” needs updating for those who want to understand why some places are so hospitable to anti-abortion politics. It will matter even more if Donald Trump gets another SCOTUS nomination and we face the possibility of a post-Roe world where the very existence of reproductive rights depends on where women live.

Get AQ Email Updates

4 comments on “Evangelicals Have Displaced Catholics As the Pro-Life Movement’s Base

  1. Where they have gone is the same place those habits the nuns are wearing in the picture.

  2. The same (“where have all the Catholics gone?”) is also happening with the issue of euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, aid-in-dying or end-of-life support murder. States with large “Catholic” populations are legalizing it or giving support to it in one manner or other. In some of those states which have not yet legalized it, doctors’ associations (which presumably include a large number of “Catholic” physicians) are changing their previous opposition to neutrality or outright support, including at least one supposedly “Catholic” one–namely in California where the Catholic Medical Association changed from “opposed” to “neutral”, assuring legalization by the state legislature and possibly assuaging the conscience of some “Catholic” doctors to engage in that practice. Public Discourse/LifeSiteNews’ recent article Bad foundation: Physician-assisted suicide is spreading in the USA reports on the spread of this deadly “disease”.

  3. A helpful article. Perhaps in the earliest years of the Wojtylan era, had the stats been similar to those mentioned re. the recent polling, it “might” have sparked a bit of effort to actually “do something” beyond issuing a few USCCCP platitudes. Nevertheless, since the 80s, AmChurch has taken on too much water and lists so violently to port that no earthly hope can be sustained against it going straight to the bottom with few lifeboats escaping.
    Without reading all of Fr. Dolan’s book, it is not possible to know if it hints at some sort of restoration effort even at this late stage. Yet, unless such an effort is rooted in Tradition it would only prolong the NO’s unavoidable disappearance as a cultural phenomenon altogether within the next few decades, if it even remains that long.

  4. This isn’t rocket science to figure this out. Land O’Lakes and Vatican II gelded and emasculated Catholic institutions and Catholic culture intellectually, morally, spiritually, and theologically. The modernist bishops of the USCCB enabled pro-abortion liberal politicians in the 1970s and 1980s which set in motion the modernist pro-abortion liberal Catholic politician as a cultural ideal (for modernist apostate Catholics like Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden). Vatican II and Land O’Lakes helped remove orthodox Catholic catechism, moral theology, and Thomistic natural law ethics from the lived experience of most American Catholics under the shadow of the Novus Ordo and the new Frankenstein monster of neo-Gnostic progressive modernism – the liberal “seamless garment” ideology of the flamboyant USCCB clown, radical modernist Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. The neo-Gnostic “seamless garment” theory paved the way to reduce the seriousness and gravity of abortion and to replace the Catholic faith with the Cultural Marxism and Frankfurt School socialism of the radical leftist wing of the Democratic party. The fruitcake modernist Cardinal of Chicago regularly bloviates for Cultural Marxism (the so-called “Social Justice”) in 2018 A.D.

    The most notorious and sordid episode of this revival of the neo-Gnostic heresy in progressive modernist “social justice” chicanery was the presence of the Cardinal of Boston at the funeral of the most rabid and decadent pro-abortion “Catholic” senator from Massachusetts. Along with the two apostate faux “Catholic” liberal dorks in the VP spot for the last two pro-abortion Democratic presidential candidates. To date NONE of them have been excommunicated and no modernist bishop has pronounced the sentence of latae sententiae excommunication on these baby-killing apostates. Without Catholic colleges and high schools which teach Catholic moral theology correctly in an orthodox way, with orthodox Catholic faculty, where will the future pro-life Catholics come from? Bishop Chaput, Cardinal Dolan, how about it? Should we expect anything more than limp-wristed progressive modernism, neo-Gnostic “seamless garment” Marxism, and situation ethics from the USCCB?

Leave a Reply