US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Cutting through the Republican candidates' latest pro-life promises

By Scott Alessi | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Last night, four of the remaining Republican candidates came out waving their pro-life flags in Iowa, promising that ending abortion will be their top priority should they make it to the White House.

Sounds great, right? But last night's event, where the candidates spoke to a pro-life audience gathered for the new Mike Huckabee-endorsed film "Gift of Life," is hardly a fair barometer. Claiming to be anti-abortion in front of an audience who came to see a pro-life movie is not exactly going out on a limb, and it doesn't mean we can really believe these promises will hold should any of the candidates be elected.

Of the candidates who turned out last night, it was no surprise to hear Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry take a strong pro-life stance. All three have been consistent on abortion, with Bachmann making it a central focus of her campaign thus far. There have been plenty of questions on the pro-life beliefs of Perry, though, who may be anti-abortion but proudly touts the record number of executions he has presided over as governor of Texas. And the devoutly Catholic Santorum just made news by criticizing the bishops of his own church for their stance on a more just immigration system that takes into consideration the dignity of all human life. So against abortion, yes, but 100 percent pro-life? I'm not so sure.

It also wasn't surprising that Mitt Romney was absent last night. There have been plenty of questions about which side of the abortion issue he's on, since his current stand on several issues is a change from some of his past positions. Trying to suddenly push abortion as a top priority likely wouldn't have been much help to Romney, so he is probably wise to stick to other issues.

And then, there's Newt Gingrich, the Catholic convert. Gingrich did surprise me with quite possibly the strongest (and least believable) promise of all: that within hours of being sworn in he would sign a series of executive orders to limit abortion funding and ensure conscience protection, and then he'd introduce legislation to defund Planned Parenthood and instead fund adoption programs. Sounds like a busy first day in office.

Of course, Gingrich is smart enough, and experienced enough in Washington, to know that all of that is easier said than done. Just putting a pro-life president in office isn't enough to suddenly bring an end to abortion--if it was, wouldn't George W. Bush have found one day during his eight years in the White House to do so?

But I'm not the only one skeptical about Gingrich's bold claims. "Everyone knows what Iowans want to hear and they will be willing to say those things,” Brad Cranston, an Iowa Baptist pastor, told the Associated Press this week. “But I think it’s important that we examine their records.” That's what Rick Santorum is doing, and his conclusion is that Gingrich isn't nearly as pro-life as he claims. And an Iowa pro-life group turned out last night in protest of the GOP frontrunner, calling him a "pro-life fraud." So if Gingrich wants voters to believe that addressing abortion is going to priority number one on inauguration day, he's got a real uphill battle.

Then, of course, he's got the rest of the country to worry about. For a majority of voters--including, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll, those in Iowa--the most important issue is still the economy. I'm sure many voters, even those who consider themselves pro-life, want to hear a candidate say their first day in office would be focused on addressing economic concerns, not abortion.

When it comes time to try to win over those voters, we'll see if the GOP hopefuls stick to the pledges they made last night.