NYT Explores Strategies for Obama to Win Catholic Votes

The headline of New York Times reporter John Broder's August 7 article, “Obama's View on Abortion May Divide Catholics,” is a bit misleading.  While Broder does a fair job of presenting both sides of the abortion issue for “Mass-attending Catholics,” he spent far more ink identifying things Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama can do to “woo Roman Catholic voters.”

As a state senator Obama opposed the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, which required hospitals to provide care to babies that survived abortions rather than abandon them to die.  As a U.S. senator he opposed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.  These two facts establish Obama as more radical on abortion than even NARAL Pro-Choice America (see the related commentaries, Obama Is the Most Pro-Abortion Candidate Ever and Obama More Pro-Choice than NARAL), and make him a difficult candidate for abortion opponents to support. 

Broder identified those voters primarily as Roman Catholics and discussed several strategies Obama could employ to win them over and dispel “the perception that Mr. Obama has a 'Catholic problem.'”

The article led with the observation that Catholics, “once a reliable Democratic voting bloc, never forgot what they considered a slight” which was the Democratic Party's  refusal 16 years ago to allow then-Pennsylvania Governor Robert P. Casey to speak at the national convention.  Broder wrote that Casey's “anti-abortion views, stemming from his Roman Catholic faith, clashed with the party's platform and powerful constituencies.”

Broder then reported that the Democratic Party is considering allowing Casey's son, Senator Bob Casey, a chance to speak at this year's convention even though the Obama-supporting younger Casey also “opposes abortion rights.”

“Mr. Casey's appearance would be an important signal to Catholics,” Broder wrote, and added that Mr. Obama could also “use his choice of a vice-presidential running mate to reassure Roman Catholics.”  Four of the candidates considered to be top-tier VP contenders are Catholic.

For practicing Catholics who consider abortion wrong there are in essence two “sides” to the issue.  One side considers abortion a fundamentally nonnegotiable issue and considers voting for a candidate who supports abortion to be a sin.  The other side suggests that you can believe abortion is wrong but still vote for a candidate who supports abortion if there are other issues the candidate supports that follow Church teaching and are enough to offset the abortion issue.  Broder quoted two sources on either side of the “Catholic” abortion debate, but gave far more space to those who support Obama. 

Broder first quoted Obama supporter Douglas W. Kmiec, whom he identifies as a “conservative Catholic legal scholar at the Pepperdine School of Law” and a Republican who served under Ronald Reagan. Broder reported that Kmiec said Catholics can vote for a candidate who supports abortion because church “doctrine allows for voting on other grounds, including the Iraq war, which the Vatican has opposed from the start.”  Kmiec told Broder “he was supporting Mr. Obama because his platform met the standard of justice and concern for the poor the church has always defended.”  Broder went on to report that Kmiec was denied Holy Communion by a priest because of his support for Obama.

Broder correctly reported that Kmiec's and Casey's support of Obama “put them in conflict with millions of lay Catholics, for whom abortion is a nonnegotiable issue.” He then quoted from a column written earlier this year by the Archbishop of Denver, Charles Chaput.

… Archbishop Chaput wrote that Catholics could support a politician who supported abortion only if they had a 'compelling proportionate reason' to justify it. 'What is a 'proportionate' reason when it comes to the abortion issue?' the archbishop wrote. “It's the kind of reason we will be able to explain, with a clean heart, to the victims of abortion when we meet them face to face in the next life — which we most certainly will. If we're confident that these victims will accept our motives as something more than an alibi, then we can proceed.”

Broder then opined: “That is a tough standard for Mr. Obama, or any supporter of abortion rights, to meet.”  He added that “Republicans are gearing up campaigns to depict Mr. Obama as a radical on the question of abortion….”

Republicans don't need to “depict” Obama as a radical on abortion, he is.  In a speech before Planned Parenthood, Obama pledged to pass the Freedom of Choice Act which would codify Roe v. Wade and invalidate many pro-life laws.  Obama is a co-sponsor of the bill.  On the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade Obama proudly acknowledged that he “consistently” has had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.  These facts were left out of the Times story.

In the NYT article, Broder gave two small paragraphs to Leonard Leo, who “directed Catholic outreach for the Republicans in 2004” and is an informal adviser to John McCain's campaign this year.  Leo said Obama is “more extreme” on abortion “than any other Democratic presidential candidate” and expressed that having Mr. Casey give a speech at the Democratic convention might give Obama “a slight bump” but won't “get him all the way there because “Casey-the-Younger isn't his father, and Mass-attending Catholics have figured that out.”

That was it for the pro-life political viewpoint.  Broder closed his story with three lengthier Obama-supporting graphs featuring the views of liberal William Galston a former policy advisor to Bill Clinton who now is a fellow at the Brookings Institute.  Galston supports the idea of Casey speaking at the convention and said it would be a “dramatic act of historical rectification that would resonate with Catholics.”  Galston, via Broder's article, also advised Obama to meet with Catholic leaders, give a “substantive speech at Notre Dame or another Catholic institution” and “speak out in favor of legislation now before Congress to provide financing for alternatives to abortion like free prenatal care and adoption assistance.”

Abortion is a benchmark issue for many voters, not just Catholics.  In fact recent polls show that for many, the pendulum is swinging to favor the pro-life stance. A 2005 Pew poll showed 63 percent of people think abortion should either be more limited, illegal except in cases of rape/incest, or not allowed at all. This isn't something the New York Times or the rest of the liberal media establishment like to acknowledge; they'd rather mitigate the extreme views of their favored candidate when it comes to the lives of the unborn.


Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.