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The Elephant in the Voting Booth

11-01-2020Fr. John LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I grew up thinking that if you were a Catholic you were also a Democrat. My father was a Committeeman for the local Democratic Party and he was the guy people in the neighborhood would ask, “who do you want us to vote for?” Interesting way to ask that question. So, elections were a big deal in my house. My father was no fan of Nixon or Ford and was happy to support the candidacy of Jimmy Carter. We voted Democratic and so did just about everybody in our Catholic neighborhood. That’s just the way it was. Until…

With the 1980 Presidential election a new twist had started to take shape in election politics: Abortion. Though the Supreme Court had issued Roe in 1973, the issue didn't have much focus in the next Presidential election which elected President Carter. But going forward it did. In the run up to the ’80 election Carter decided he would not campaign against Roe and stated he supported the decision despite the fact that the Democratic Party Platform was against abortion. Reagan on the other hand, formerly as was the Republican Party, had been firmly prochoice, stated that he was now prolife and campaigned in opposition to Roe. From that point on the two parties basically traded positions on abortion.

The 1980 Presidential election saw the rise of the “Reagan Democrats”. The issue that formed them was abortion. You could be a Democrat, vote for the Prolife Reagan but still vote Democratic down the ballot. Though lots of people we knew liked the idea, my father was not quite ready to embrace it. There were still lots of other issues that needed to be considered and besides who knew if Reagan was serious about the issue or just trying to peel off the Catholic vote. By 1984 the abortion issue had finally become front and center in electoral politics. It became undeniable that who we elect could shift the issue of abortion towards more restrictions or less. Also, by then the Prolife Movement in the US had taken off and ending abortion became front and center in the teachings and statements of the US Bishops. My father became a “Reagan Democrat”. Though I don't think he ever embrace the economic and other policies of the Republicans, abortion rose to the top and vetoed all the other issues.

Here we are 40 years after the 1980 election and the abortion issue still dominates our electoral politics. It is still the elephant in the voting booth that is hard to get around especially for Catholics. Simply put it crowds out all other issues. For a while the Democratic Party Platform insisted that abortion be “safe, legal and rare.” That was a little easier to swallow, at least we could work towards the common goal of making it rare. But their present Platform calls for the elimination of all federal and state restrictions on abortion including post viability abortions, repealing the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits tax dollars from paying for abortions) and codifying Roe (codifying Roe v. Wade would take the question of safe and legal abortion out of the Supreme Court’s hands by passing legislation in Congress that guarantees women in every state the right to unfettered access to abortion care. This would protect the right to abortion even in the event that Roe v.Wade is overturned and any state level restrictions would be subject to review by Congress). It’s no longer “safe, legal and rare” nor “you prolife people do what you want and we will do what we want”. Now it’s “we will make you pay for abortion; make you include it in your healthcare plans and force your medical system to provide abortions.” That’s not an appeal to unity.

The two political parties have moved further and further apart on abortion and a whole host of other issues. Gone are the days of shades of difference. Now the differences are glaring. Which helps explain the divisions in our society. Whoever wins this election, the division will not be bridged and in fact will get only worse. That is part of the story of the politics of the past 40 years. Imagine if legal abortion was not an issue, if Roe had never happened. How would our voting patterns been different and therefore the platforms of the parties be different today? And what would our nation look like today?

St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta was prophetic when she said, “The greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion, which is war against the child. The mother doesn't learn to love, but kills to solve her own problems. Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want.”

Just look around our nation, in our communities and families to see that it is so.

My father was a man of integrity, tremendous civic involvement and Catholic through and through. I don't know if he ever changed his party affiliation but I know he continued to vote as a “Reagan Democratic” and put principles before personalities. I can’t say I always followed in my father’s footsteps but on the last point I have.

Love,

Fr. John B.

PS On Tuesday, Election Day we will have all day Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the Church beginning after the 8:30am Mass until 6pm. Stop in and pray before you vote or if you already have voted come and pray for our nation and a peaceful election.

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