At the annual convention of the Knights of Columbus, held last weekend in Quebec, Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson declared it high time "that Catholics shine a bright line of separation between themselves and all those politicians who defend the abortion regime of Roe v. Wade." Anderson cleared the way for a resolution, adopted last Thursday, urging action on policies that would protect human life.
If the Knights follow through on Anderson's exhortation, their influence might matter. Catholics, as a group, usually vote for the winner in the presidential elections. Catholics voted for Nixon in 1972, Reagan twice, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Clinton twice, and George W. Bush in 2004.
The only recent exception was Bush in 2000, when Gore took almost precisely 50 percent of the Catholic vote -- a significant reason why the Gore/Bush race was one of the closest ever.
Anderson told the Catholic News Service that although his speech included derisive remarks towards politicians who promise change without furthering pro-life causes, he wasn't singling out Barack Obama.
Obama, however, is clearly the pro-choice candidate in this presidential election. He has enough problems with Catholics as it is, without the Knights leading the charge.
The Democratic candidate's lead in the polls has been slipping. The August 4 Associated Television News/Zogby poll even had McCain leading Obama among likely voters, 42 to 41 percent. In this poll, Obama suffered a huge 26-point swing among Catholic voters in the last month.
In July, American Catholics favored Obama by 11 percent. In August they favored McCain by 15 percent.
IF THE KNIGHTS have any influence in this already volatile group, Obama will be in trouble come November.
Catholics, however, are notoriously politically divided. Latino Catholics generally vote for Democrats. White Catholics favor more conservative candidates. The effects of "the Catholic vote" differ from region to region and state to state, making it a difficult voting bloc for any candidate to pursue.
Every year, the Knights adopt resolutions on policy issues, always including a statement against politicians supporting pro-choice measures. The difference this year, according to vice president of communications Patrick Korten, is that the Knights directly called out Catholic politicians, and did so before television audiences. It was a way of saying that they mean business.
"The message is that Carl Anderson and the Knights of Columbus don't believe that politicians can any longer claim other reasons or policy matters as excuses for inaction following the loss of over 40 million lives since Roe v. Wade," Korten explained.
He predicted that the Knights' statement in combination with the US Council of Catholic Bishops' document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship" (.pdf), released last November, will have a significant effect on Catholic voters who might otherwise might not be focused on abortion.
There are 1.25 million members of the Knights of Columbus in the U.S. Korten hopes other Catholics will follow Anderson's lead: "It is time for us to say, 'if you want my vote, as a Catholic, you're not going to get it if you vote for abortion, period....and that is not just aimed at the Democrats, as some people might suggest. It includes anyone who votes for abortion."
PERHAPS THE KNIGHTS will catalyze a backlash against pro-choice candidates generally, but Obama is the one who would likely feel the sting the most.
Abortion is one of the few subjects where the still-inexperienced Obama has a track record, and it's not one that would pass the Knights' -- or anyone's -- litmus tests for pro-life candidates.
In addition to being the favored candidate of NARAL (who rated him a perfect 100 percent on abortion issues) and other abortion advocacy groups, Barack Obama was the only member of the Illinois state legislature to oppose the 2002 Illinois Induced Infant Liability Act, which protects babies born alive after failed abortions.
In other words, one of the few things voters know for sure about Obama is that he would permit abortion even for humans born alive.
The Catholic vote is enigmatic: hard to collate, yet critical in determining the presidency. And the Knights of Columbus are trying to rally Catholics around a key issue that just happens to be the most visible chink in the Democratic candidate's armor.
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