We have already seen in the presidential and vice-presidential debates that a rocky election season awaits the Catholic voter. The candidates up for the top jobs in our country’s government do not necessarily hold the values and virtues we would like to see in our Commander-in-Chief. A variety of stances on issues critical to the Catholic conscience make for a difficult choice come November.
A perennial hot button issue, the “pro-life” agenda touted by the historically anti-abortion Republican Party is not truly representative of the Church’s vision for respect of the dignity of human life from conception until natural death. The Republican ticket has shifted its view on governmental regulation of abortion, first expressing a full disagreement with the issue and later preaching stipulations for cases of incest, rape, and health and safety of the mother. Likewise, right-wing politicians have traditionally favored and fought for the protection of the death penalty, considered by the Catholic Church unnecessary in developed countries like the United States (CCC 2267). These stances should pause the single-issue Catholic voter and spur research into alternate options.
Yet, the other ticket does not adequately reflect the Catholic conscience, either. The Democratic Party in this election has repeatedly bragged about their support of reproductive rights for women, encouraging “safe and legal” methods of abortion and more lax regulations on contraceptive medications. Because of these well publicized views from the left-wing candidates, it may come as a shock to learn that Senator Tim Kaine, the former governor of Virginia and Vice Presidential hopeful, is a Roman Catholic and therefore has expressed that he is personally opposed to abortion.
However, his individual beliefs surrounding the matter do not extend to his public policy or enforcement of legislation regarding abortion, in particular in his home state of Virginia. When running for governor in 2005, Kaine published a statement on his website that read, “I have a faith based opposition to abortion. As a governor, I will work in good faith to reduce abortions…”
The website goes on to propose that Kaine would uphold this goal by “enforcing the current Virginia restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother; fighting teen pregnancy through abstinence-focused education; ensuring women’s access to health care (including legal contraception) and economic opportunity; and promoting adoption as an alternative for women facing unwanted pregnancies” (ontheissues.org). Such bold methods of preventing unplanned pregnancies and reducing abortions seem to have been lost in the years since Kaine ran for governor.
More recently, Senator Kaine’s feelings regarding the issue of abortion seem to have progressed away from his initial ideals. In 2008 when asked if he felt the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision should ever be overturned, Kaine outright spoke against overturning the precedent and responded, “Roe vs. Wade is ultimately about saying that there is a realm of personal liberty for people to make this decision” (ABC News, Politics Blog). By the time he ran for Congress in 2012, Kaine’s website stated, “I strongly support the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions and, for that reason, will oppose efforts to weaken or subvert the basic holding of Roe v. Wade.
We all share the goal of reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions. The right way to do this is through education and access to health care and contraception rather than criminalizing women’s reproductive decisions” (ontheissues.org). The progression of this message from one of faith to one of politics troubles the Catholic voter who may consider Senator Kaine a viable option for Vice President.
Most recently, Senator Kaine’s statements on his current Congressional website convey a further separation from his religious background, no longer associating the candidate with the Church at all. Under the heading of “Individual Rights,” the Senator articulates his most recent assessment of the matter: “We all share the goal of reducing unwanted pregnancies and abortions.
The right way to do this is through education and access to health care and contraception rather than by restricting and criminalizing women’s reproductive decisions” (Source). As a candidate for Vice President and self-proclaimed practicing Roman Catholic, it seems as if the inconsistency of Senator Kaine’s interpretation of pro-life issues panders to voters who are seeking a moderate stance on social issues.
Knowing the details and history of the candidates leaves looming questions: what is a Catholic voter to do? While no candidate directly supports the consistent ethic of life the Catholic Church professes as the most basic of human rights, is a candidate who personally supports life but politically does not support legislation that seeks to eradicate the destruction of life enough? How can the Catholic community best use its voice in this election? A vote based on tireless prayer, careful discernment, and a well-formed conscience is surely the only answer.