Last week, the Knights of Columbus and the Marist Institute for Public Opinion jointly published two polls that should give Catholics a bit of much-needed encouragement about the future of American politics. One of them was about abortion. It found that 75 per cent of Americans favoured significant restrictions on the availability of abortion – in varying degrees, ranging from permitting it only in the first trimester to a total ban. A mere 15 per cent would allow abortion “at any time during the pregnancy”.
Still, the news isn’t all heartening. According to the same poll, 55 per cent of Americans call themselves pro-choice, as opposed to just 38 per cent who call themselves pro-life. That means that most Americans are still comfortable with the concept of abortion to one degree or another, whereas the Catholic Church teaches that the practice is never permissible. Only 10 per cent of the population (16 per cent of Republicans and 8 per cent of Democrats) support the Church’s line. This is alarming, given that 24 per cent of Americans call themselves Catholic.
Moreover, the number who support restrictions may be falling. In 2016, 78 per cent of respondents supported the same “significant limits to abortion”. Although the difference is within the margin of error, Americans don’t appear to be moving in a more pro-life direction.
The second poll asked: “Do you think a person’s religious faith should or should not be a factor in deciding their appointment to a position in the federal government?” An overwhelming 85 per cent said it shouldn’t be a factor, while just 11 per cent said it should. When asked if freedom of religion should be protected even if it went against government laws, 55 per cent said it should. Here political allegiance made a difference: the figures were 59, 55 and 53 per cent for Republicans, Democrats and Independents respectively. The gap between those who do and don’t practice their religion was greater: 61 versus 50 per cent.
It’s not hard to figure out why the KofC asked this particular question. Earlier this month, a Trump judicial nominee named Brian Buescher was grilled by two Democratic senators, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Kamala Harris of California, over his membership of the Knights. During Buescher’s confirmation hearing, Hirono claimed that the Knights have “taken a number of extreme positions”, such as their support for traditional marriage. Harris, likewise, condemned their opposition to “a woman’s right to choose” – that is, to have an abortion. Both are authoritative teachings of the Church, which all Catholics are required to uphold.
Again, while the poll suggests that public opinion supports the Knights’ freedom, one must ask: for how long? Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a senator would accuse a judicial nominee of being unfit for office because he held to the fundamental teachings of the Catholic faith. Though we may be safe for the moment, the trend in politics seems to be away from tolerating Catholic activism – or, indeed, Catholics who don’t explicitly reject teachings that are out of step with modern sensibilities.
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