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Catholics the US election and the next four years.


WHEN AMERICA WENT TO the polls and elected Barack Obama and Joe Biden as the next president and vice president of the United States, it was an historic moment. As prochoice Catholics, we celebrated the election of a prochoice president who has been a strong supporter of abortion rights, comprehensive sexuality education and access to reproductive health care.

Certainly, the next administration will have to work hard to repair the damage done to reproductive rights during the last eight years: the Global Gag Rule, abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, the subordination of science to personal, religious beliefs, and a pervasive program against family-planning efforts. Undoubtedly, concerns about America's economic security and military engagements overseas will garner a great deal of attention. However, we do hope that the next administration and Congress will also work for advances in reproductive health care in the US and abroad.


Once again, Catholic voters showed that as goes the Catholic vote, so goes the election. According to exit polls, Catholics voted 54 percent for President Obama and 45 percent for Senator John McCain. As shown in our poll, "The Catholic Voter in Summer 2008," Catholic voters, like voters around the country, were most concerned with the bread-and-butter issues that effect all Americans. Catholics showed once again that the most important factors in their decision about the next president and the issues they want him to focus on were improving the economy, affordable health care, ending the war in Iraq and keeping the country safe from terrorism. Catholics also represented the largest swing in religious voters in this presidential election, with seven percent more Catholics voting for the Democratic candidate as compared to 2004.

Catholics showed their independence when they voted their conscience over the objections of their bishops who issued statements and lobbied against the candidacy of Barack Obama because of his prochoice stance. This wasn't always easy; on the eve of the election, one bishop, appearing on a radio show, said to Catholics considering a vote for the Democratic candidate: "Give consideration to your eternal salvation."

Many Catholics were tightly turned off by this overt electioneering. In our poll of likely Catholic voters, 70 percent said that the views of Catholic bishops are unimportant to them in deciding for whom to vote and 73 percent said they believe they are under no religious obligation to vote on issues the way the bishops recommend. On Election Day, Catholic voters held firm to those views and showed just how out of touch those few bishops and conservative Catholics are who claimed the issue of abortion must trump all others.

Despite the hierarchy's claims that abortion needed to be the one issue that Catholics voted on, and in direct contradiction to alarmist claims made by a few reporters and headline writers, Catholics overwhelmingly disagreed with the idea that abortion should be the deciding factor this election. Those bishops who didn't interfere in this election cycle are to be commended for not going the old route of Communion wars and threats of excommunications. There is change in the air. More and more public officials recognize that the views of the hierarchy do not reflect the views or votes of their constituents.

Catholic policymakers around the country are also to be commended. They proved this election cycle that they are getting braver and less willing to be intimidated by those few bishops who publicly criticize them for their prochoice stance. Catholic policymakers across the country are no longer willing to kowtow to their local bishop but instead are doing the job for which they were elected, working for the rights and needs of their constituents--and doing so from a position informed by their faith.

An example of this can be seen in Vice President Joseph Biden, a prochoice Catholic policymaker. Vice President Biden recognizes the importance of representing constituents and recognizes the importance of guaranteeing religious freedom in a pluralistic society. His actions are informed by his faith and his conscience but also with the voices of his constituents in mind.

Like these courageous Catholic policymakers, we will continue moving forward--with strength and courage. We are proud to have worked with Catholics across the country and across the aisle to help them articulate their views and defend their convictions, whether in the pews or in the public square. Our work will continue unabated. We are excited about the prospect of working with the new administration and Congress to effect change for the better on issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights, both domestically and internationally. We acknowledge that there are many priorities for the new administration. The ones we will be watching most closely include:

1. Providing comprehensive and affordable health care to all Americans. This includes funding for comprehensive sex education and family planning programs that reduce unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion, as well as providing support for women who choose to carry their pregnancies to term.

2. Restoring the United States' leadership position on women's rights, international family planning and global development issues. This includes the restoration of the US contribution to UNFPA and the repeal of the Mexico City policy that restricts US funding for foreign NGOs that work on abortion.

3. Working towards an end to the culture wars over abortion and towards an era that respects the right of women to access legal abortion in a timely manner. To that end, we need to restore scientific integrity to federal agencies by appointing qualified personnel to leadership roles and advisory committees irrespective of their personal beliefs about abortion and contraception and by appointing judges who will uphold the long-standing precedent of Roe v. Wade.

4. Respecting the conscience of each American. The next president should remove any refusal clauses affecting federal health programs beyond the traditional exemption for the direct provision of abortion and work to make the equitable provision of reproductive-health services a priority at both the state and federal levels.

The majority of Catholics voted in favor of a president who shares their values on sexual and reproductive health. Catholic voters overwhelmingly endorsed an agenda that includes access to family planning, comprehensive age-appropriate sex education and caring adoption programs in order to reduce the need for abortion. We will continue supporting Catholic policymakers through our Catholics in Public Life program and will continue to be the voice of the majority of Catholics worldwide who disagree with the dictates of the Vatican on matters related to sexuality, contraception and parenthood. We hope we can count on you to join us in our work.

JON O'BRIEN is the president of Catholics for Choice.
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Author:O'Brien, Jon
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2008
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