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US election is about abortion: 50 bishops

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008

A quarter of America's bishops have said that the most important issue for voters in the forthcoming presidential election is abortion.

Some 50 out of the nation's 197 active bishops have published articles or given interviews during the run-up up to the election urging abortion as the key issue on which voters should decide which way to vote.

Senator McCain opposes the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade, which legalised abortion in the US, but has refused - most recently, at last week's final television debate between the presidential candidates - to impose an abortion-based "litmus test" on his Supreme Court nominees.

The Democratic candidate, Barack Obama, has repeatedly indicated his support for the 1973 ruling alongside a pledge to sign a proposed Freedom of Choice Act that would invalidate any state or local ordinance intended to "deny or interfere" with a woman's choice to have an abortion.

Among the bishops who have intervened is Bishop Robert Hermann of St Louis who last Friday wrote: "The issue of life is the most basic issue and must be given priority over the issue of the economy, the issue of war or any other issue." His comment was published in the archdiocesan newspaper which appeared hours before Mr Obama addressed 100,000 people in that heavily Catholic city.

In Missouri - a normally Republican state where Mr Obama has taken a lead in the polls over recent weeks - Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph wrote in his diocesan newspaper that "despite hardship, beyond partisanship, for the sake of our eternal salvation", Catholic voters "should never" support a candidate who favours the continued legalisation of abortion.

In Colorado, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver made national headlines after calling Mr Obama "the most committed abortion-rights presidential candidate of either major party since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision". Later that same day, he told a dinner for a Catholic women's organisation in his archdiocese that the assertion by his Catholic supporters "that Senator Obama is this year's ‘real' pro-life candidate requires a peculiar kind of self-hypnosis, or moral confusion, or worse".

A growing group of clergy are trying to counter the abortion focus. Speaking to The Washington Post, Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary in Los Angeles, said: "There are many other issues we need to bring up," and listed "racism, torture, genocide, immigration, war and the impact of the economic downturn on the most vulnerable among us".

His comments were echoed by Bishop Terry Steib of Memphis in Republican-dominated Tennessee, who wrote in his diocesan newspaper: "We cannot be a one-issue people." He continued: "I have received letters from well-meaning people telling me for whom I should vote and how I should inform parishioners regarding the candidates for whom they should or should not cast their ballot ... It is not my duty, nor is it my role."

The bishops are to debate the gravity of political support for abortion at their next Baltimore plenary, a week after the 4 November vote.

The US bishops issued voter guidelines last year which were approved by 98 per cent of the bishops' conference.

Mr McCain's backers have sought to focus on the document's assertions that "intrinsic evils" such as abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research and human cloning "must never be supported",

Mr Obama's advocates emphasise passages that state Catholics "are not single-issue voters" and "should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity".