One of the perils of living in America, ostensibly a democracy, is that we might start to think our elected officials represent the majority and are trying to justly balance various minority perspectives with the majority’s opinion.
Believing this would be a mistake. A quick look at the issue of abortion shows just how little American politicians care about representing the majority view, and it gives a wake-up call to Catholics who may have pinned their hopes on politics to end the travesty of abortion.
If all we do is listen to politicians and watch mainstream news, it may come as a shock to hear that pro-life people are a majority in America. To listen in on a political debate or pick up a mainstream newspaper, it seems like the vast majority of Americans are pro-abortion. A Gallup poll found that 51% of Americans think most other Americans are pro-abortion; only 35% thought they were mostly pro-life.
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In fact, the opposite is true. As recently as May 2019, 49% of Americans identified as pro-life and only 46% identified as pro-choice. That might not seem like a huge margin, but the reality is that most Americans believe that unborn babies are fully human and are entitled to full legal protection.
Yet the popular will isn’t reflected in our nation’s laws or public discourse.
Nearly 50 years after Roe v. Wade, support for abortion is much more reserved than it might seem from the news. Three-quarters of Americans, including 60% of Democrats, believe there should be significant restrictions on abortions, such as limiting it to the first three months of pregnancy. Even among Americans who self-identify as pro-choice, more than six out of 10 support restricting abortion to the first trimester.
After multiple states legalized late-term abortions in winter 2019, the Democratic governor of Virginia spoke out in defense of infanticide. Democratic voters – particularly voters under 45 – pivoted on the issue: in February 2019, 34% of Democrats identified as pro-life, as opposed to 20% in January. Three-quarters of Americans, including a majority of Democrats, oppose taxpayer funding of abortion overseas, and a majority (54%) oppose all taxpayer funding of abortions here in America.
Contrast that with the message being promoted by the Democratic party. Among the more than two dozen Democratic 2020 candidates for president, not one has advocated openly for any restrictions on abortion. In fact, nearly all have promised to eradicate restrictions on abortion and to strip states of the right to regulate taxpayer funding for abortion. The 2016 Democratic Party platform called for an end to the Hyde Amendment, which protects American federal tax dollars from being used for abortions.
Clearly, here is a widening gap between what Democratic voters want and what Democratic politicians are willing to provide.
Yet, while Republicans tend to be quicker in upholding the right to life (for instance, nearly all voted in favor of the failed Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act last February), they’ve lost their nerve at a few crucial moments. After two years in control of both the presidency and Congress, Republicans failed to pass any legislation stripping federal funds from scandal-ridden abortion giant Planned Parenthood.
Currently Planned Parenthood receives nearly $550 million annually in taxpayer dollars, while continuing to flout federal laws by covering up child sex abuse and sex trafficking. In 2018, several Senate Republicans actually voted against a bill amendment that would have defunded Planned Parenthood.
The reality is that politicians on both sides of the aisle are simply not interested in what Americans think. The pro-life vs. abortion issue has become a trading card: many Republican candidates do lip service to pro-life voters while not intending to take serious action once in offic. On the flip side, Democratic candidates advocate for extreme positions on abortion in an effort to engage far-left activists, not the average American (or Democrat, for that matter).
But if one peril of living in a democracy is putting too much faith in politics, another is succumbing to the illusion that we are powerless because politics is against us. For faithful Catholics who have diligently voted in favor of pro-life candidates for decades, it can be deeply discouraging to see that our Congress is so anti-life that it will not even debate a bill protecting infants born alive through botched abortions. It might be tempting to give up.
That would be a huge mistake. To give up now would be to succumb to the fetishization of politics that so plagues American life—it would be, essentially, to say that unless an idea or movement has gained political power, it is irrelevant. The reality is that the pro-life cause is currently gaining social and personal power, which is far more significant. Through the unflagging efforts of pro-life groups—Catholic, Protestant, and agnostic—more Americans identify now as pro-life than as pro-choice for the first time in ten years. 77% of Americans want restrictions on late-term abortions. 50% of all Americans, compared to 46% opposed, agree that before a woman chooses abortion, she should be required to see an ultrasound of her unborn child—one of the most effective abortion deterrents. In other words, by and large the majority of Americans support measures that help women choose life.
This is a vitally important piece of the pro-life movement. While it’s obviously important to have laws that support life, it’s just as important to have people who support life. Catholics and other pro-life advocates should not be discouraged by what we hear in the news and from political candidates about abortion. Instead, we need to look at the facts: today, more Americans are pro-life than not. And that is the result of work by pro-life pregnancy centers, pro-life advocacy groups, and pro-life individuals who work every day to build a culture of life – one that doesn’t depend on the fickleness of politicians.
[Photo credit: Getty Images]