Why Radical Pro-Lifers Are Wasting Their Time

Now that voters in Mississippi have rejected the so-called personhood agenda — the radical anti-abortion effort to make the moment of conception the legal beginning of human life — the movement says it plans to take its referendum to a number of other states in 2012, including mine, Florida. But as a Roman Catholic, part of a church whose hierarchy insists its members are anti-abortion rights by default, what I’d really like to know is why the Colorado-based Personhood USA isn’t going to Rhode Island. Small though it may be, Rhode Island’s population is 63% Catholic, the highest share of any state. A pro-life plebiscite victory there should be a slam dunk, right?

Wrong. A 2005 poll showed that Rhode Island is also, coincidentally, 63% pro-choice — a near impossibility if its Catholic residents are as doctrinally opposed to abortion rights as the bishops assure us every Catholic must be. And lest you dismiss Rhode Island Catholics as a liberal fringe, a Pew Research Center survey this year found that a majority of all U.S. Catholics, 52%, think abortion should be kept legal. That just about squares with the general U.S. population, 54% of whom support abortion rights, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll over the summer.

So if groups like Personhood USA can’t even count on Catholic USA, aren’t they just wasting our time as well as their own? Shouldn’t our national abortion conversation stop obsessing on the pro-life/pro-choice extremes and focus on the reasonable, conscience-driven approach that cohorts like Catholics are in fact taking? Isn’t it time we stopped thinking of Catholics as a gauge of abortion opposition and instead as a barometer of how Americans think abortion rights should be kept humanely legal and humanely limited? The bishops this week recast their condemnation of abortion rights in terms of “religious liberty.” But when only 3% of U.S. Catholics have even read the bishops’ guide for voting in elections, according to Fordham University, I think we can say that Catholics are indeed practicing religious liberty — just not the kind the bishops want us to. [more]