Catholics and many other people of faith have strong feelings about the morality of abortion -- and questions regarding the impact on their lives of the current health care reform effort in Washington. So it's not surprising that conservative political groups have sought to use these issues to elect Republican candidates. Perhaps the surprising thing is how quickly groups like Massachusetts Citizens for Life (MCFL) were willing to abandon their principals on abortion to reveal their real priority: electing a Republican to the US Senate regardless of his views on abortion in order to kill health care reform.
MCFL has a history of heavy-handed language when it comes to presidential politics. During the 2008 presidential election, they condemned Barack Obama as a "pro-abortion" candidate, and chose to ignore the groundbreaking efforts by the Obama Campaign to advance a message of abortion reduction.
Now MCFL has endorsed State Senator Scott Brown for the US Senate, frequently referring to him as a "pro-life candidate"--despite his unequivocal support for Roe-vs-Wade. The major reason may be conservatives' determination to defeat any healthcare reform that might provide coverage for the nearly 50 million Americans who don't have it. Wrote President Jack Rowe on the MCFL website, "Here is the very exciting part. We in Massachusetts can actually save the whole country from this awful health care. Our PAC has been supporting Scott Brown because he will be a pro-life vote in the Senate. Scott Brown will also vote against the health care bill."
It is difficult to understand how the defeat of healthcare reform can be considered a 'pro-life' position. According to a recent study from Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance, 40,000 Americans die on average every year as a consequence of having no health insurance. Despite all the misinformation that the "tea party" movement and other extremists have put out regarding healthcare, the bills offered by the House and Senate will allow poor and low income individuals much greater opportunity to access needed medical care.
With regard to abortion, it's worth noting that Republican candidate Brown has views that are largely the same as Attorney General Coakley and President Obama. Like the Democrats, Senator Brown believes that adoption should be made easier. But he goes even further on his website. He writes, "While this decision should ultimately be made by the woman in consultation with her doctor, I believe we need to reduce the number of abortions in America." In other words, Senator Brown's stated position on abortion is virtually indistinguishable from President Obama's, and MCFL is now apparently supporting an abortion stance that they vehemently opposed in the 2008 presidential election.
The primary objective is clear: regardless of one's actual views on abortion, MCFL supports the Republican despite the fact that MCFL and other conservative abortion-focused groups appear to have no qualms about a whole array of other life issues: Senator Brown's opposition to a national carbon emissions program that would begin to decrease the threat of global warming; his support for torture (eg. waterboarding) in interrogations; his support for increasing the deficit through extending the dramatic Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, while opposing healthcare reform for the same reason.
Catholics and other voters who care about abortion should recognize the truth obscured by the endorsements of these conservative abortion groups: that both Martha Coakley and Scott Brown have embraced an approach to abortion that is primarily focused on supporting women and working to decrease the number of abortions. The balance of life and social justice issues -- addressing the dramatic rise in poverty in our country, a crackdown on Wall Street abuses that led to our economy's meltdown and fixing the economy so it lift's everyone's opportunity, the creation of a clean energy economy, or finally solving the problem of 50 million medically uninsured Americans -- should give any religiously-minded voter pause for thought about supporting the Republican in this race.
Kathleen Kennedy Townsend chairs the Institute for Human Virology at the University of Maryland, and is on the Board of Catholic Democrats. Dr. Patrick Whelan is a rheumatologist in Boston and president of Catholic Democrats.