“Romney and Santorum: Roe v. Wade Should Be Overturned.” Thus read the headline in LifeNews.com. My reaction: No, not anytime soon.
Don’t get me wrong, I love LifeNews. Few publications are so thoroughly excellent in what they do. And I like Rick Santorum. As for Mitt Romney, he is not my top choice for president, but I can’t say I dislike him.
But what about this headline? The article reports that a President Romney or Santorum would favor overturning the deadly Roe v. Wade, decided by the U.S. Supreme Court 39 years ago this week. Santorum’s position is not a surprise. He has been a superb, reliable pro-lifer. Romney’s position is great to hear, a further sign of his gradual evolution in favor of the unborn. Romney said of Roe: “I don’t believe they decided that correctly. In my view, Roe v. Wade was improperly decided…. And in my view, if we had justices like Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, and more justices like that, they might well decide to return this issue to states as opposed to saying it’s in the federal Constitution.” Romney stated clearly: “Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes, I do.”
I applaud this. It’s good news. It’s a commendable position.
But it also elicits a big “I doubt it.”
Why? Because overturning Roe under a President Romney or Santorum is largely a moot point. It’s very unlikely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned under any Republican successor to Barack Obama. Why? Brace yourself for the ugly truth: Because of Catholics. Yes, that’s right, Catholics.
By a decisive majority in November 2008, Catholics voted for Obama, enough to make the difference in Obama defeating John McCain and taking the White House. In so doing, these tens of millions of self-identified, self-professing Roman Catholics guaranteed this nation more bloody decades of Roe v. Wade. It’s a done deal, already decided.
Let’s recall the situation in 2008:
The November 2008 election was a pivotal moment for Roe v. Wade, a literal matter of life and death. The balance of the Supreme Court was at stake, precariously positioned to become either pro-life or anti-life. The next president would surely get two Supreme Court picks, probably three. A radical “pro-choice” president would choose “pro-choice” nominees. A pro-life president, which John McCain would have been, would opt for justices who would likely overturn Roe, or at least not affirm it.
And what happened? Obama won, and he got two picks right away, in both instances picking not only very liberal “pro-choice” women, but very young (by court standards) women. If Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor enjoy a normal life span, they will be loyal pro-Roe votes for decades to come. If Obama wins in November 2012, he’ll get a third pick, likely a replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. In fact, even if he loses, he might quickly get a chance to replace Ginsburg with another (much younger) pro-Roe judge. Believe me, Ginsburg and the “choice” crowd know what is at stake—better than oblivious Catholics do.
Did we see this coming back in 2008? Of course, we did. I did dozens of commentaries warning about this, as did countless pro-life Catholics who understood the enormity before them. This was obvious.
To be fair, I don’t want to indict all Catholics. The data shows that Catholics who attend Mass regularly or more than once a week voted against Obama and thus against Roe in 2008. Unfortunately, those are not the majority of Catholics.
George W. Bush won Catholics in 2000 and in 2004. In turn, Bush made wonderful Supreme Court picks that were positioned to overturn Roe; that is, if he was succeeded by a pro-life Republican. That would-be Republican successor lost, defeated because he failed to get a majority of Catholics.
I’m convinced that if you really want to discern the underlying currents of history, watch the happenings in the Catholic Church and her people. November 2008 was one spot where the Church’s people blew it big time.
So, back to that LifeNews headline: Romney and Santorum believe Roe should be overturned? That’s good, but it’s unlikely to happen in their administrations.
That said, all hope is not lost. On a positive note, we can be content to know that these two men would select nominees who, in the long run, would make a pro-life difference, and could eventually help to overturn Roe, and at least not solidify it. They could again redirect the ship. But overturning Roe? No, not anytime soon. Thanks to Catholics.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press) and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.