After the Election: Life, Marriage and Freedom

By Richard M. Doerflinger

November 19, 2012

Politically conservative candidates fared less well than expected in the recent election, and this has raised questions. Did they lose because they supported Catholic positions on marriage and the protection of human life? Did Catholic voters repudiate those positions? 

Exit polls and other data help provide some answers.

First, as many have pointed out, white Catholics tended to vote for Gov. Romney, while most black and Hispanic Catholics voted for President Obama – often on economic and/or immigration issues which are also of concern to the Church. Less widely known is that regular churchgoers, both Catholic and Protestant, went for Romney. President Obama’s policies against religious freedom did not appeal to churchgoers who learned about this issue through their parishes.

Second, voters in four states narrowly voted against the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman.  These states were hand-picked by supporters of marriage redefinition as most likely to give them victories. But even in these very liberal states, the Catholic position on marriage won more votes than Gov. Romney did. This issue is not the reason he lost.

Third, votes on ballot initiatives provided some pro-life victories.  Voters in Massachusetts, among the bluest of “blue” states, rejected physician-assisted suicide, even as they gave the state an all-Democratic congressional lineup. The national euthanasia movement had selected this state as likely to give them a new toe-hold in the Northeast. Montana voters overwhelmingly approved a measure for parental notification in the case of a minor’s abortion. 

Fourth, the pro-life issue fared a bit better in congressional elections than Republicans did.  Pro-life votes in the House of Representatives are down a bit, but not enough to endanger support for the legislation on life and conscience that the Church has endorsed. While Republicans lost a couple of Senate seats, the pro-life position did not, as it crosses party lines. For example, a Republican from Maine who left the Senate had consistently voted “pro-choice,” while the new Senator from Indiana is a pro-life Democrat.

In short, marriage and respect for unborn children now face a challenging political climate. But the fault does not lie with the Catholic stance on these issues.  

What does this mean for the future? It means redoubling our efforts to advance the Church’s grave moral concerns -- always alert to opportunities to explain them in ways that can be appreciated by religious and secular Americans alike. It means defending and strengthening current laws against government promotion of abortion, which will be attacked by politicians who wrongly assume an electoral mandate to rescind them. And on the Administration’s effort to force even religious institutions to provide coverage of contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs against their consciences, it means renewing the battle for religious freedom in all branches of government – judicial, executive and legislative – until our First Freedom is again respected as it should. As Cardinal Dolan, president of the bishops’ conference, said shortly after the election: “I would say no door is closed except for the door to capitulation.”

So there is much work to do. Nobody said evangelizing American culture would be easy.

Mr. Doerflinger is Associate Director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. For more on the bishops’ efforts visit and