By Thomas Shaffern
Thomas Shaffern studied history, philosophy, and theology at the University of Scranton. He is now a high school teacher in Pennsylvania.
People often criticize politicians for never taking a stand on issues, especially when that stand could cost someone reelection. However, one can find a handful of examples in history of politicians who pushed back against their peers at their own risk.
Lord David Alton of Britain found himself in this predicament some decades ago. A British Member of Parliament representing Liverpool under the Liberal Democrat Party, he stood his ground when his party sought to make the pro-abortion policy a plank in its platform in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1997, he stepped down as an MP as a result of his disagreement with his party’s stance on abortion. Fortunately for Lord Alton, Sir John Major made Alton a life peer in the House of Lords. Since then, Lord Alton’s work is mostly comprised of human rights advocacy.
Unfortunately, unlike Lord Alton, most politicians lack the courage of their convictions. One particularly thinks of Catholic politicians in the United States who continuously vote in favor of abortion. Recently, in the Senate, majority leader Chuck Schumer brought up a vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would remove most restrictions on abortion through all nine months of pregnancy. The vote almost followed party lines, with Joe Manchin finding himself as the only Democrat to break ranks and to join Republicans in opposing the bill.
The vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act marks an awkward moment for Pennsylvania senator Bob Casey. Like many other Catholic democrats, Casey spent years trying to balance the Faith with which he was raised and the pro-abortion platform of the Democratic party.
In the past, Casey attempted to toe this line by casting pro-life votes when the pro-abortion outcome was inevitable. In 2018, Casey voted in favor of a 20-week abortion ban, but the vote finished 51-46. Casey’s vote was inconsequential, functioning only to try to convince real pro-life Democrats in Pennsylvania that he cared about the issue. However, Casey has never voted in favor of the pro-life cause when his vote would swing the decision.
To further prove the case of Senator Casey’s faux pro-life stance, in 2018 Politico ran a piece detailing that Casey votes in favor of abortion more often than not. In 2016 and 2017, he received a 100 percent from NARAL on his abortion voting record. Casey claims he supports policies that support the unborn, though his voting record tells a different story. He also voted with Planned Parenthood 75 percent of the time, making the ghastly claim that the abortion mill reduces instances of abortion because of their distribution of contraception. Never mind that the company’s primary source of revenue is abortion itself.
What makes things even more awkward for Casey is that his father, governor Bob Casey Sr., was perhaps the best-known pro-life Democrat in recent memory. Governor Casey established himself as such with his fight in the Supreme Court case Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The senior Bob Casey was one of the last vestiges of the Blue Dog Democrats. He worked to limit abortions in Pennsylvania and supported gun rights, though he was also pro-union and believed in a larger role of government than many Republicans today. Bob Casey Jr. could never run on this platform as a Democrat today.
One might wonder how Senator Casey continues to win elections in a state with a heavily Catholic population when his record clearly shows a pro-abortion bent. The sad truth is that Pennsylvania Catholics, like Catholics in most states, prioritize many other things in their voting habits. For many modern Catholic Democrats, their faith comes in second to their politics. Such a phenomenon can be attributed to any number of factors—for example, poor religious education, bishops unwilling to speak up on the matter of abortion, and a generalized culture of death, as Pope St. John Paul II so aptly described.
We can only hope and pray that the pro-life Democrats can make a return to the American political scene in the future and muster the courage of their convictions like Lord Alton. Though many nominal Catholics will continue to vote for pro-abortion candidates, there are still plenty of pro-life Democrat voters crying out for a candidate who reflects their values. The American polity was healthier with politicians like governor Bob Casey Sr. Perhaps before his time in politics ends, Senator Casey will realize his errors and return to the ways of his father