5 Myths About the Catholic Vote And How to Counter Them

We know now that at least half of all members of the Tea Party self-identify as part of the religious right. It is clear that this election season, with its Tea Party influence, is about the ways in which a political movement cloaked as a party can successfully “hide” its religious extremism for only so long. Jeff Sharlet explores this today, in fact. Jodi Jacobson has been writing about the “duh” factor in this link, which the mainstream media ignored at our peril, over the last few weeks. The possibility of this election “mainstreaming extremism,” through the victory of Tea Party candidates with their outrageous stances on womens’ health access in this country is frightening.

Even religious organizations and members of the clergy who don’t align themselves with the progressive or reproductive rights movements are saying enough is enough.

All of this has created an environment ripe for a misunderstanding of exactly how those voters who identify as religious do feel about the issues – and how they may vote.

Catholics for Choice says “many news outlets are repeating misinformation about what Catholics believe and what they can and should do when it comes to voting.”

If you are a Catholic voter, you might be wondering why your support for contraception, your view that the economy and good jobs are more important issues to focus on than ensuring that same sex couples cannot marry, or that you don’t believe your legislators vote for the health care reform bill was a vote for “taxpayer funded abortion” has not been represented by the media.

Here are 5 myths about the Catholic vote, according to Catholics for Choice, and how you can clear them up for people:

MYTH ONE: Catholics are more conservative than the rest of the electorate
REALITY: Catholics’ opinions largely mirror those of the rest of the electorate

  • Sexually active Catholic women older than 18 are just as likely (98%) to have used some form of contraception banned by the Vatican as women in the general population (99%). (National Survey of Family Growth, 2008) 

  • Catholics (69%) are as likely as people with different religious beliefs to support medical research using embryonic stem cells left over from in-vitro fertilization procedures: Protestants (74%), other Christians (66%) and the overall population (72%) have broadly similar views. (Harris Interactive, 2010)

On these and other issues, we see that Catholics make up their minds independent of the bishops or the loud noises from the blogosphere. 

MYTH TWO: All Catholics oppose abortion
REALITY: Catholics are prochoice

  • When Catholic voters considered healthcare reform in 2009, and were asked about access to abortion, they supported health insurance coverage for abortion in many circumstances: when a pregnancy poses a threat to the life of a woman (84%); when a pregnancy is due to rape or incest (76%); when a pregnancy poses long-term health risks for a woman (73%); when test results show a fetus has a severe, abnormal condition (66%); and whenever a women and her doctor decide it is appropriate (50%). (Belden Russonello & Stewart, 2009)

  • Only 14% of Catholics in the US agree with the Vatican’s position that abortion should be illegal (Belden Russonello & Stewart, 2009) and a poll released by the bishops themselves in late 2008 showed just 11% of US adults support the bishops’ preferred option: a complete ban on abortion. 

The reality is that like people of other faiths and no faith, a large majority of Catholics can see circumstances in which abortion is an acceptable or even necessary moral choice. 

MYTH THREE: Catholic teachings on reproductive health issues are rigid and unchanging
REALITY: Catholic teachings on abortion and family planning are more nuanced than the bishops claim

  • Although the Catholic hierarchy says that the prohibition on abortion is both “unchanged” and “unchangeable,” this does not comport with the actual history of abortion teaching. At the outset, the church hierarchy only opposed abortion because it suggested illicit sexual activity. Their current position evolved in later years. 

  • Church teachings on moral decision-making and abortion are complex. In Catholic theology there is room for the acceptance of policies that favor access to the full range of reproductive health options, including contraception and abortion.

The reality is that Catholics can, in good conscience, support access to abortion and other reproductive health services and affirm that they can be a moral choice.

MYTH FOUR: Catholics do what their bishops tell them to
REALITY: Catholics do not want to hear from their bishops about politics

  • Only eight percent of Catholics believe that the views of the US bishops are “very important” in deciding for whom to vote. Seventy-three percent of Catholics believe they do not have a religious obligation to vote on issues the way their bishop recommends and 69% of Catholic voters do not believe they have a religious obligation to vote against candidates who support legal abortion. (Belden Russonello & Stewart, 2008) 

These numbers are crystal clear. Catholics are perfectly capable of making up their own minds about whom to vote for and can and do, in good conscience, cast votes that their bishops might oppose. 

MYTH FIVE: Catholics are obsessed about abortion
REALITY: Abortion is not the only issue that concerns Catholics

  • An overwhelming majority of Catholics (92%) rate the economy as very important; almost as many (91%) say jobs are their top issue in the coming election. These numbers are nearly identical among all major religious groups and the overall population (90% for the economy and 88% for jobs). 

  • Social issues, such as abortion, are much farther down the list with fewer than half of Catholics and Americans (both 43%) rating abortion as “very important” during this election cycle. (Pew 2010 Annual Religion and Public Life Survey)

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  • mostland

    Great blog. As a pro-choice Catholic, I appreciate someone debunking the theories. I am especially concerned about a group called heroic media working in my area. I recently found out about the group via a political campaign and I am shocked at what this group believes. (www.ppabortsaa.com) They have a candidate running for the Texas House of Representatives who is trying to defund planned parenthood. We need to be armed with more information like this to defuse extremism.

  • bayou-girl

    The Catholic Church has never claimed to be a democratic religion as they base their faith on two things: 1) Bible, 2) Catholic Tradition. As a former journalism professor, I must point out that you cite sources (Harris, Belden, Pew) for all but one of your Five Myths. In myth #3, you should cite from sources of authority for the Catholic Church. Those include the Vatican, Catechism or the Magisterium.

  • bayou-girl

    The Catholic Church has never claimed to be a democratic religion as they base their faith on two things: 1) Bible, 2) Catholic Tradition.

    As a former journalism professor, I must point out that you cite sources (Harris, Belden, Pew) for all but one of your Five Myths. In myth #3, you should cite from sources of authority for the Catholic Church. Those include the Vatican, Catechism or the Magisterium.

  • proud-catholic

    I agree with Bayou Girl that the Catholic Church is not a democracy and never has been, thank goodness.  The Church teaches the Truth.  Catholic or not, believe it or not, the Church’s teachings on life and abortion won’t change no matter what statistics you qoute or how many peope agee or disagree with it.  The truth doesn’t change.  The Church always was and always will be prolife – Praise God!

  • arekushieru

    Yeah, I would praise a misogynistic, hypocritical, hateful, war-mongering God, if I were a hypocritical, misogynistic, hateful, war-mongering Catholic, too!  However, I believe in a Feminist, Fair, Loving, Peaceful God (along with His son, Jesus) as a feminist, fair, loving, peaceful Christian (not Catholic, though).  Praise God!  Fortunately, there are Catholics who don’t follow the fascist dictates of the Church, itself, since we have a good understanding of what happens when fascism overtakes a society or religion completely.

  • crowepps

    So what’s the current ‘truth’ about infants and purgatory?


    The Church was ALWAYS ‘prolife’? 


    Oh, man, SURE it was, so long as you weren’t a ‘secret’ Jew or a Templar or an ‘uppity’ nun or a heretic or a ‘witch’ or an ‘infidel’ or a midwife SUSPECTED of being a witch or a ‘heathen’ resisting slavery like the now extinct Natives of Hispanola or…..


    Hundreds of thousands, perhaps MILLIONS of actual real live people dead over the last couple thousand years at the direction of the Church.  For an organization that is supposed to be ProLife it sure is eager to kill people.

  • mareyk288

    Myth one: survey, no comment.

    Myth two: “Catholics are prochoice”. No, some Catholics are pro-choice. The Church is pro-life.

    Myth three: “Catholic teachings on abortion and family planning are more nuanced than the bishops claim.” The Vatican has the final word, regardless of what the bishops say. Abortion is an intrinsic evil. In the Catechism, the official doctrine states that abortion is immoral and evil in all cases. The use of artificial contraception and non-emergency sterilizing is also a mortal sin. This is not opinion, it is OFFICIAL doctrine. It can be cited in several document and writings.

    Myth four: The same survey. I am sensing bad journalism.

    Myth five: Why, exactly, do you need Catholic approval to be pro-choice?


    You are quoting Catholics for Choice, but do not post what Catholic Vote has in response to all this? Can you say, “biased”? Also, the “Catholics” for Choice is not a group made up of Roman Catholics, and the ones that are “practicing” are committing mortal sin by receiving Communion while spreading heresy and refusing to obey the hierarchy.

    It would be hilarious to point out these weak arguments except for the sad fact that people believe this nonsense when the actual truth is in the Catechism. Get your facts straight. If you don’t agree with it, join a different religion.


  • arekushieru

    The Church is misogynist.  Regardless, why you think this proves your point, though, I have NO idea.  I didn’t see her say that she was talking about the Church and ONLY the Church, after all.  You and I must have been reading something different, I guess…?

    Abortion is an intrinsic evil why…?  If it is because of loss of life, the Catholic ‘tradition’ and Bible teach that loss of life is acceptable even under circumstances that are FAR less burdensome than pregnancy.  If it is because of loss of life, then why haven’t they charged people with saving the lives of the born humans, not JUST the unborn…?  SO sorry, it’s not about life, it’s about punishing women, always has been, always will be, as long as the Vatican sticks around. 

    If it is a mortal sin, then they can’t take the position that abortion is a mortal sin, since it is DUE to these policies that Catholic women have abortions.   Either that or they are just hypocrites, not fit to lead, as I have always suspected.

    Now, I am SURE we are reading different articles.  Please link to it, because it is NOT this one.  In this one, she simply said that the position of Catholics is different than what many people have thought them to be, after ALL. 

    Jon O’Brien is Roman Catholic.  He is the President.  Please tell me how this group is not made up of Roman Catholics, considering that he should be very willing and able to recruit other Roman Catholics, for that reason.

    How do you know they are receiving Communion?  I was RAISED Catholic.  I never received Communion.  Hmmm….  Besides, you obviously didn’t know, for some very strange reason, that not every person of a particular denomination has to be a follower of the Church, itself. 

    Why should they have to?  Obviously don’t agree with people that fight from within to reduce discriminatory practices, either.  I wonder how much longer black people would have had to remain slaves if white people hadn’t fought similar discriminatory practices, without renouncing their own race, just because that was the ‘law of the land’.  Seems to me it would have been MUCH longer.  How wonderful to hear that you wouldn’t have minded it… NOT.