Barack Obama has a Catholic problem. If he doesn't do better than John Kerry did in 2004 with this quintessential swing voting bloc, he won't be elected president. Obama's campaign understands this -- which is why they're considering allowing a pro-life Democrat, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, to speak at the Denver convention. Sen. Casey's father, the late Governor of Pennsylvania Robert Casey Sr., was denied a speaking slot at the Democrats' 1992 convention for fear of offending pro-choice Democrats. But simply allowing his son to speak at the convention won't be enough to woo Catholics back.
Catholics are by no means a single-issue voting group. But for observant Catholics, those who attend Mass regularly and follow the Church's teachings, a candidate's position on abortion matters. Even among more broadly identified Catholics -- those who call themselves Catholic, regardless of whether they are observant -- 59 percent oppose abortion, according to a recent Time magazine poll. And Barack Obama's record on this issue will cause pause for many of them.
Like most Democratic politicians, Barack Obama favors abortion rights for women, with few exceptions. He has recently said that he might support some limits on very late-term abortions, those that occur in the last trimester of pregnancy. But when it comes to actual legislative limits, he's never found one yet he can vote for.
Take partial-birth abortion, a gruesome procedure in which the fetus is delivered feet-first, its skull punctured and its brain suctioned out, thereby killing the fetus and collapsing the skull for easy delivery of the full body. Although he was not in the U.S. Senate when it voted to ban partial-birth abortions, Obama has nevertheless heavily criticized the legislation and the Supreme Court ruling that upheld its constitutionality. "Some people argue that the federal ban on abortion was just an isolated effort aimed at one medical procedure -- that it's not part of a concerted effort to roll back the hard-won rights of American women. That presumption is also wrong," Obama told those attending a 2007 Planned Parenthood meeting. But Americans overwhelmingly oppose partial birth abortion -- 70 percent in a 2003 Gallup poll -- so Obama's views put him in a distinct minority.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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