11/17/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Catholics Shouldn't Trust McCain's Abortion Rhetoric

For many Catholics, one of the key moments in the presidential debates came Wednesday, when moderator Bob Schieffer asked the candidates whether they would choose judicial nominees based on their views about overturning Roe v. Wade. Catholic voters who plan to vote for John McCain because of his opposition to abortion need to take a serious look at how he responded to this question.

For many conservative Catholic voters (like many associated with my alma mater, Franciscan University of Steubenville), abortion is the fundamental moral and political issue of our time. For these Catholics, the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade symbolizes our nation's fundamental disrespect for human life, and thus overturning Roe is our primary political responsibility as citizens. What are the economy, or poverty, or labor rights, or equal pay for equal work, or the war in Iraq, in comparison to the plight of the unborn? For these Catholic voters, since the next President will be choosing at least one if not more Supreme Court Justices, it is crucial to make sure that those Justices will be committed to overturning Roe. According to this thinking, if the fight to overturn Roe means choosing a presidential candidate whose other views contradict Catholic teaching, then so be it. It is that important to get the proper judges into the Court.

Keeping these concerns in mind, these Catholic voters should note the following key exchange in the October 15 presidential debate. Moderator Bob Schieffer asks the candidates about whether their views on Roe v. Wade will be reflected in their judicial nominees (Source:

SCHIEFFER: Senator McCain, you believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned. Senator Obama, you believe it shouldn't. Could either of you ever nominate someone to the Supreme Court who disagrees with you on this issue? Senator McCain?

MCCAIN: I would never and have never in all the years I've been there imposed a litmus test on any nominee to the court. That's not appropriate to do.

SCHIEFFER: But you don't want Roe v. Wade to be overturned?

MCCAIN: I thought it was a bad decision. I think there were a lot of decisions that were bad. I think that decisions should rest in the hands of the states. I'm a federalist. And I believe strongly that we should have nominees to the United States Supreme Court based on their qualifications rather than any litmus test...I voted for Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg. Not because I agreed with their ideology, but because I thought they were qualified and that elections have consequences when presidents are nominated. This is a very important issue we're talking about.

In other words, John McCain says both that he will NOT choose judges based on their views on overturning Roe, and also that he has an established record of voting to confirm judges who in fact SUPPORT Roe. Thus as President, he may very well nominate more judges who will maintain the status quo on Roe - which is no surprise, seeing as 7 of 9 Justices currently on the Court were nominated by Republicans. In addition, Sen. McCain tells us that for him, the principal issue at stake is states' rights - not the unborn. What this means is simple: according to his own words, there is absolutely no assurance that as President, John McCain would in fact nominate anti-Roe judges.

What does this mean for Catholic voters? Quite frankly, it means that Catholics should not vote for John McCain simply because of the judges he will nominate. There's no reason to suppose those judges will represent Catholic values. Instead, voters must look at the candidates' entire platforms, and determine which platform is in fact more "pro-life." Archbishop John Onaiyekan of Nigeria put it nicely in an October 11 interview with National Catholic Reporter. The archbishop said that, if he had a vote, he would support Sen. Barack Obama for President. Interviewer John L. Allen, Jr., asked how the archbishop could support a pro-choice candidate, and Onaiyekan responded thus:

Let me put it this way: The fact that you oppose abortion doesn't necessarily mean that you are pro-life. You can be anti-abortion and still be killing people by the millions, through war, through poverty, and so on...If my choice is between the person who makes room for abortion but who is really pro-life in terms of justice in the world, peace in the world, I will prefer him to somebody who doesn't support abortion but who is driving millions of people in the world to death.

What the archbishop points out is that it takes more to be pro-life than to simply support overturning Roe v. Wade. Pro-life means all life - the unborn and the born alike. To vote pro-life may sometimes mean supporting a candidate, like Barack Obama, who is pro-choice.

Further Reading:
Canon and civil lawyer Nicholas Cafardi: "I"m Catholic, staunchly anti-abortion, and support Obama"
Conservative Catholic constitutional scholar Douglas Kmiec: "Barack Obama, Man of Faith"
Senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center Fr. Thomas Reese: "Abortion, Rhetoric or Results?"
Q&A on Abortion from Catholic Democrats