GOP's anti-abortion extremism didn't work with Catholic voters as they'd hoped


When it comes to voting on abortion, Catholics' views tend to align with those of others in their party.

Donald Trump spent the 2020 election courting Christian conservatives, hoping his anti-abortion stance would win over both evangelicals and conservative Catholics.

For the latter group, that may have been a miscalculation. An election night analysis by Catholics for Choice showed that Catholic voters are not as single-minded about abortion as Trump assumes.

Trump did everything he could to solidify his conservative Christian base, including rushing Amy Coney Barrett onto the Supreme Court. Nominating Barrett, an extremely conservative Catholic, was seen as a way for Trump to court the Catholic vote. This was based on the assumption that Catholics would vote on the basis of a candidate's views on abortion alone. 

Repeated polling, though, shows this is not true.

A 2019 Pew Research study found that 77% of Democratic and Democratic-leaning Catholics registered to vote believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Conversely, a large majority — 63% — of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholic voters think abortion should mostly be illegal.

When it comes to voting on abortion, Catholics' views tend to align with those of others in their party. 

In 2020, 57% of Catholic voters said abortion should be legal. That view is even more prevalent among Latinx and younger Catholic voters.

Only 30% support overturning Roe v. Wade, even though Trump made clear that his appointment of Barrett to the Supreme Court was largely based on the assumption that she would decide in favor of overturning the ruling.

Moreover, most Catholic voters do not share the restrictive views of people like Barrett when it comes to reproductive health. For example, Catholics for Choice found that a majority of Catholic voters believe birth control should be covered in employer health care plans, a position contrary to that of American Catholic bishops. Barrett, though, won't even agree that the right to birth control is a settled legal issue.

Seventy-four percent of Catholic voters support in vitro fertilization (IVF), while 66% support the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research. 

In contrast, Barrett signed on to an ad calling for prosecuting doctors both for performing abortions and for discarding unused embryos, which often result from IVF. 

Overall, Catholic support for Trump declined slightly from the 2016 vote. Ryan Burge, a professor at Eastern Illinois University who studies the intersection of faith and voting, said this shift might have been vital in swing states.

"White Catholics are important in places like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. If you can swing them your way, that's the difference in close races," Burge said.

Catholics for Choice found that Biden won Catholics by a margin of 4 points

At the highest levels, that of bishops and Supreme Court justices such as Samuel Alito and Justice Barrett, Catholics may appear to be monolithic, universally holding extreme anti-abortion stances.

When it comes to Catholic voters, though, the economy, health care, the coronavirus, and Medicare were top of mind, and their views on abortion tracked those of other members of their parties.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.