NEW YORK — In the midst of pandemonium at the nation’s capital Wednesday, Democrats won both Georgia runoff elections to give the party control of Congress and the White House for the first time since 2011.
Catholic reaction to the news largely aligned with abortion stances. Pro-choice Catholics – or those with a broader definition of pro-life – see it as an opportunity for Democrats to advance legislation on issues like healthcare, climate change and immigration. Other Catholics believe the issue of life is preeminent and now fear it’s inevitable abortion rights will be expanded.
“It’s a huge shift. It’ll be a huge change in the Biden Administration agenda and what congress does,” Matthew Green, professor of politics at the Catholic University of America told Crux. “It creates more opportunities that Biden didn’t have before.”
Rev. Raphael Warnock – senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta – and John Ossoff defeated incumbent Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler by narrow margins in this week’s runoff elections.
The victories split the Senate 50-50, which will give Vice-President-Elect Kamala Harris the role of tiebreaker.
Green expects election reform, climate change and coronavirus – primarily vaccine distribution and economic aid – to be the top priorities of Democrats. When it comes to abortion Green doesn’t see it as an issue at the top of the priority list for Democrats in the beginning.
“It depends what Biden wants to do,” Green said. “I think progressives and pro-choice activists will say, ‘now is the time to pass legislation on abortion,’ but I’m very skeptical because the majorities in the House and Senate are so narrow and I think Biden wants to set a different tone than the one set by Trump – one of more cooperation across party lines and avoiding polarizing battles when it’s possible.”
Speaking with Crux, Brian Browne, a political science professor at St. John’s University, said “time will really tell” what’s going to happen. He noted that Biden campaigned on the idea of codifying Roe v. Wade – the 1973 Supreme Court Decision that legalized abortion – making it the law of the land.
Browne also pointed out that “it’s no secret (Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) has called for a dismantling of stuff like the Hyde Amendment.” The Hyde Amendment prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion. Biden has also expressed his opposition to the legislation.
He added one of the “basic tenets of Catholicism is common ground, and that’s what legislators and voters have to do, find that common ground.”
Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of the Catholic social justice organization NETWORK, told Crux she hopes this will “help break a bit of the hyper partisanship that has gone on in the senate for so long.”
“Having by the slimmest margins a Democratic senate that can set the agenda, that’s the big difference. To bring bills to the floor is really important for American people because it’s such a slim majority,” she said. “I also think it might help both sides work in a bipartisan fashion.”
Campbell said she expects a bi-partisan effort to make healthcare more affordable. She lists voter protection, economic relief through COVID-19 and immigration reform as top priorities.
As for abortion, Campbell has a broader definition of pro-life and is “tired” of the conversation.
“I’ve come to realize that our mandates as Catholics is to care for life. It is not criminalization of abortion. That’s only one way to protect life,” she said. “We’ve had this fight over Roe v. Wade for 48 years and I’m tired of it. We’re saying let’s care for the unborn and the way to do that is to care for pregnant women and that’s our approach to that.”
Mary FioRito disagrees. The Cardinal George Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center holds the position that “all of the other rights don’t mean a lot if you’re not alive to enjoy them” when it comes to abortion.
FioRito also told Crux she’s concerned about the language people of faith like Warnock and Biden – who will become the country’s second Catholic president on inauguration day – use on the topic.
“Follow Rev. Warnock’s speeches just to see how he talks about the abortion issue and just as a Catholic, I’m really concerned about the religious language that is now used to justify abortion,” FioRito said. “You have Biden 100 percent in favor of it and it seems like sort of an acknowledgment now that you can be a good, serious, religious person and abortion doesn’t have to bother your conscience at all.”
FioRito said she also fears what could happen with religious liberty when it comes to things like coronavirus mandates on churches, despite the Supreme Court rulings in multiple dioceses.
And unlike Campbell, she’s not convinced the imbalance of power will be a good thing.
“I always feel uncomfortable when one party controls everything because I think that does take away the voice of 49.5 percent of all Americans. It doesn’t make a difference what those voices do because those voices won’t be heard,” FioRito said.
“I think having a check on parties and power is a good thing. I think that’s how you build up a healthy democracy and that requires compromise,” she added.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg