Now that voters in Mississippi have rejected the so-called personhood agenda â€” the radical anti-abortion effort to make the moment of conception the legal beginning of human life â€” the movement says it plans to take its referendum to a number of other states in 2012, including mine, Florida. But as a Roman Catholic, part of a church whose hierarchy insists its members are anti-abortion rights by default, what Iâ€™d really like to know is why the Colorado-based Personhood USA isnâ€™t going to Rhode Island. Small though it may be, Rhode Islandâ€™s population is 63% Catholic, the highest share of any state. A pro-life plebiscite victory there should be a slam dunk, right?
Wrong. A 2005 poll showed that Rhode Island is also, coincidentally, 63% pro-choice â€” a near impossibility if its Catholic residents are as doctrinally opposed to abortion rights as the bishops assure us every Catholic must be. And lest you dismiss Rhode Island Catholics as a liberal fringe, a Pew Research Center survey this year found that a majority of all U.S. Catholics, 52%, think abortion should be kept legal. That just about squares with the general U.S. population, 54% of whom support abortion rights, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll over the summer.
So if groups like Personhood USA canâ€™t even count on Catholic USA, arenâ€™t they just wasting our time as well as their own? Shouldnâ€™t our national abortion conversation stop obsessing on the pro-life/pro-choice extremes and focus on the reasonable, conscience-driven approach that cohorts like Catholics are in fact taking? Isnâ€™t it time we stopped thinking of Catholics as a gauge of abortion opposition and instead as a barometer of how Americans think abortion rights should be kept humanely legal and humanely limited? The bishops this week recast their condemnation of abortion rights in terms of â€œreligious liberty.â€ But when only 3% of U.S. Catholics have even read the bishopsâ€™ guide for voting in elections, according to Fordham University, I think we can say that Catholics are indeed practicing religious liberty â€” just not the kind the bishops want us to. [more]