The U.S. Catholic bishops have been outspoken in the 2008 presidential election about the duty of Catholic politicians to support policies opposing abortion—and, by extension, for voters to support only those politicians who support life. Abortion is the paramount life issue, because the way that we treat innocent human life defines the type of society in which we live.
Since Roe v. Wade (1973), many Catholics, historically Democrats, have been drawn to the Republican Party because of the Democrats' support for abortion. Where do John McCain and Sarah Palin stand on abortion?
Sarah Palin's Consistent Pro-Life Record:
Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the Republican nominee for vice president, is a relative newcomer to politics, but in her time as a city council member and mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, as well as her two years as governor of Alaska, she has consistently opposed abortion, with an exception only for the life of the mother. She is on record as favoring the overturning of Roe
, which would send the issue back to each state.
During her campaign for governor in 2006, Palin did not make abortion a campaign issue. As governor, she has not yet proposed any pro-life legislation. She opposes public funding for abortion.
Sarah Palin on Abortion and Her Family:
In April 2008, Governor Palin gave birth to her fifth child, Trig Paxson Van Palin, who has Down Syndrome. Trig was diagnosed in utero
in December 2007, and the Palins did not consider abortion. About 90 percent of children diagnosed with Down's in utero
The Palins have also supported their 17-year-old daughter who became pregnant out of wedlock. During her campaign for governor in 2006, Mrs. Palin stated in a debate that, if her daughter conceived a child through rape, she would want her to bear the child.
John McCain's Qualified Support for Life:
Sen. John McCain is opposed to abortion, with exceptions for rape, incest, and the health of the mother. Many pro-life groups regard these exceptions as a "slippery slope." Senator McCain, for instance, told the New York Times (January 25, 2000) that a woman should not have to prove that she was raped in order to abort her child under the rape exception: "I think that I would give the benefit of the doubt to the person who alleges that." He has opposed both partial-birth abortion and public funding of abortions and organizations that perform or advocate abortion. He has supported parental-notification laws.
John McCain and Roe v. Wade:
On the question of Roe
, Senator McCain's record has been inconsistent. In 1999 and 2000, he gave numerous interviews in which he tried to carve out a "middle ground," arguing that Roe
should be made "irrelevant" but not repealed, citing the danger to women from illegal abortions.
In a recent interview with Katie Couric, Senator McCain's wife, Cindy, stated that she and the senator are not in favor of overturning Roe. When pressed by Couric, she backtracked but then clarified after the interview that she, "like First Lady Laura Bush," does not want to see Roe repealed.
The McCain-Palin Campaign's Issue Statement:
On the other hand, the McCain-Palin campaign's website prominently features the headline "Overturning Roe v. Wade" in the section on "Human Dignity and the Sanctity of Life." That section states:
"John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench."
It goes on to note that the issue would then be returned to the states and that reversing Roe
"represents only one step in the long path toward ending abortion."
The Republican Platform:
Unlike in previous years, the 2008 Republican Party platform does not explicitly mention Roe v. Wade, but states that "We lament that judges have denied the people their right to set abortion policies in the states." It praises the ban on partial-birth abortion, explicitly opposes federal funding for abortion, and supports parental-notification laws. There is no discussion of further restrictions on abortion but a lengthy discussion of the need for policies supporting prenatal healthcare and alternatives to abortion, such as adoption and pregnancy care centers.
A Catholic Evaluation of the McCain-Palin Position on Abortion:
Thirty-five years after Roe
, some Catholics, especially those who have abandoned their historical support for the Democratic Party over the Democrats' support for abortion, have begun to question the Republican Party's commitment to ending the 1.4 million abortions that occur every year in the United States. It's a fair question, especially since the Republican Party controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for six years, from January 2001 to January 2007, and during that time made no real efforts to pass a pro-life constitutional amendment or to reverse Roe
legislatively and remove the issue of abortion from the jurisdiction of the federal courts. They did, however, pass a ban on partial-birth abortion and the Born-Alive Infants' Protection Act, which requires that children who were born alive during an abortion to be given medical treatment. (Together, the two pieces of legislation may save 600-1,000 lives per year.)
On the other hand, some Catholics argue that the Democratic Party is so committed to the upholding and extension of abortion rights, including, in their 2008 platform, federal funding for abortion, that the Republicans are preferable even if they only pay lip service to the pro-life cause.
In terms of the practical results of the 2008 presidential election, even if John McCain is not committed to overturning Roe v. Wade, he has consistently opposed federal funding for abortion, while Barack Obama and the Democratic platform both support it. Federal funding is an important issue for Catholics, because every taxpayer becomes implicated in the abortions that are funded with tax dollars.