NEW YORK — In the midst of pandemonium at the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, Democrats won both Georgia runoff elections to give the party control of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2011.
Catholic reaction to the news largely aligned with abortion stances. Some Catholics see it as an opportunity for Democrats to advance legislation on issues like healthcare, climate change and immigration. But many Catholics who consider the defense of life as the preeminent issue in our society now fear it’s inevitable abortion “rights” will be expanded.
“It’s a huge shift. It’ll be a huge change in the Biden Administration agenda and what congress does,” Matthew Green, professor of politics at the Catholic University of America told The Tablet. “It creates more opportunities that Biden didn’t have before.”
Rev. Raphael Warnock — senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta — and John Ossoff defeated incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler in the runoff elections. The victories split the Senate 50-50, which will give Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris the role of tiebreaker.
Green expects election reform, climate change and coronavirus — primarily vaccine distribution and economic aid — to be the top priorities of Democrats. When it comes to abortion Green doesn’t see it as an issue at the top of the priority list for Democrats in the beginning.
“It depends what Biden wants to do,” Green said. “I think progressives and pro-choice activists will say, ‘Now is the time to pass legislation on abortion,’ but I’m very skeptical because the majorities in the House and Senate are so narrow and I think Biden wants to set a different tone … one of more cooperation across party lines and avoiding polarizing battles.”
Brian Browne, a political science professor at St. John’s University, said “time will really tell” what’s going to happen. He noted that Biden campaigned on the idea of codifying Roe v. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion — making it the law of the land.
Browne also pointed out that “it’s no secret (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) has called for a dismantling of stuff like the Hyde Amendment.” The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion. He added one of the “basic tenets of Catholicism is common ground, and that’s what legislators and voters have to do, find that common ground.”
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice organization NETWORK, said she hopes this will “help break a bit of the hyper partisanship that has gone on in the Senate for so long.”
Sister Simone said she expects a bipartisan effort to make healthcare more affordable. She lists voter protection, economic relief from COVID-19 and immigration reform as top priorities. As for the issue of abortion, Sister Simone said: “I’ve come to realize that our mandate as Catholics is to care for life. It is not criminalization of abortion. That’s only one way to protect life,” she said. “We’ve had this fight over Roe v. Wade for 48 years and I’m tired of it. We’re saying let’s care for the unborn, and the way to do that is to care for pregnant women and that’s our approach to that.”
Mary FioRito disagrees. The Cardinal George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center holds the position that “all of the other rights don’t mean a lot if you’re not alive to enjoy them.”
FioRito added she’s concerned about the language people of faith like Warnock and Biden — who will become the country’s second Catholic president on inauguration day — use on the topic: “Follow Rev. Warnock’s speeches, just to see how he talks about the abortion issue. And just as a Catholic, I’m really concerned about the religious language that is now used to justify abortion,” FioRito said.