Congress, Catholics, and the Vanishing Pro-Life Democrat


But first, some good news for Catholic Democrats.

Given the large margin by which Republicans control the new Congress (301-234, counting both houses) and the fact that the incoming class in a Republican wave-year has a higher percentage of Catholics (35%) than Congress at large (31%), you might think that there are more Catholic Republicans than Catholic Democrats in Congress.

But that’s not the case: Even with a GOP majority in the Senate and a huge Republican majority in the House, there are still more Catholic Democrats in Congress than Catholic Republicans, both as a percentage and in absolute numbers. Of the 234 Democrats in Congress, 83 (about 36%) identify as Catholic. Catholic representation among Republicans is lower: of the 301 seats the GOP holds in the House and Senate, only 81 congressional Republicans (27%) identify as Catholic.

Catholic Republicans do outnumber Catholics Democrats in the House (70-68), but Democrats more than make up the difference in the Senate, where Catholic Dems outnumber their GOP counterparts, 15-11.

Catholics (and Christians, generally) are overrepresented in Congress; almost 93% of Congress identifies as Christian of one stripe or another, compared with 73% of Americans. Meanwhile, the oft-discussed “unaffiliated” Americans or “Nones” are underrepresented. A few years back, Pew reported that 1 in 5 Americans identified as “Atheist,” “Agnostic,” or “Nothing in particular.” According to Pew, only one member of the 114th Congress actually identifies as “unaffiliated.” If you count all the non-responses (“Don’t know/refused”) as “unaffiliated,” the total still only comes to 10 members, or less than 2% of Congress.

Of course, the fact that politicians in a majority-Christian country identify as religious—in one form or another—at much higher rates than the population at large is not exactly a surprise. But the numbers do seem to suggest, at the very least, that our politicians know that being seen to be religious is a very important thing. As long as Americans prefer their political leaders to be religiously inclined, you can expect American politicians will continue (at least outwardly) to oblige.

While a religiously unaffiliated politician may still be a rare bird, there is another species on Capitol Hill that is even more endangered: the pro-life Democrat.

How rare are pro-life Democrats in Congress? Well, Democrats for Life of America (DFLA)—“the preeminent national organization for pro-life Democrats”—has endorsed just five of the 234 Democrats in the new Congress.

That’s it. Just five men—Sen. Bob Casey (PA), Sen. Joe Manchin (WV), Sen. Joe Donnelly (IN), Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3), and Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-7)—are sufficiently pro-life to earn an endorsement from their own party’s pro-life wing. For those who care about the defense of human life—regardless of party—this is very bad news.

Following heavy Democratic losses in November’s midterms, DFLA issued a scathing press release in which they insisted that Democrats are not only wrong about abortion, but that the Democratic Party’s unwavering fealty to the abortion license is politically disastrous. This grim chart from DFLA says it all:


The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic Studies program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. His work focuses on the application of Catholic social teaching to a broad spectrum of contemporary political and cultural issues. Since 2005, Mr. White has been coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society: a three week seminar on Catholic social teaching, with an emphasis on the thought of Blessed John Paul II, which takes place every summer in Kraków, Poland. He studied politics at the University of Dallas and philosophy at the Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the St. Patrick's Evangelisation School in London, England.

1 Comment

  1. We need to speak up about the injustices and dangers of the abortion industry need to be clearly debated in our government and to the people. Why should we let the left control the dialogue over life and death.

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