Despite the Catechism’s teaching, Carolan told CNA that abortion should not be the primary issue that Catholics consider in the voting booth, adding that the abortion rate is falling no matter who is in office—and has actually declined faster during Democratic administrations.
“We have to have a discussion about abortion, but it can’t be framed in black-and-white, like some people try to make it. And it’s not the only issue,” Carolan said.
According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, the abortion rate (number of abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age) rose sharply after 1973, the year the Supreme Court struck down state bans on abortion and ruled that there is a right to abortion. The rate jumped from 16.3 to 29.3 between the years 1973 and 1981. It has then declined steadily since to a 2017 rate of 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44.
Fr. Frank Pavone, founder of Priests for Life, who supports Trump’s re-election, told CNA that the abortion rate, ratio (number of abortions compared to number of live births), and absolute numbers of abortions have all declined, but the drop is due to “complex” factors including increased education on abortion, fewer abortionists and clinics, the rise of pro-life pregnancy centers, sexual mores, and state restrictions on abortion.
Federal and state abortion restrictions will push the number of abortions and the abortion rate down, and not increase it, he said.
Pavone pointed a report published by the pro-life Charlotte Lozier Institute that reviewed more than 20 studies in peer-reviewed journals; the institute concluded that birthrates of women on Medicaid increased when the Hyde Amendment took effect in the 1970s, and that the policy “routinely” saves around 60,000 lives each year and has resulted in more than two million lives saved since 1976.
In conclusion, “the more the abortion industry is funded, the more abortions will occur,” Pavone said.
Regarding Biden’s promise to codify Roe, the abortion rate, numbers, and ratio “skyrocketed” after the Roe decision in 1973, Pavone said, and thus “[i[t stands to reason that a codification of Roe would not lead to a decrease in those numbers.”
Carolan says that a proliferation in free or affordable contraception could also reduce abortions. He pointed to a Colorado program, funded by a grant from Warren Buffett’s family, that provided no-cost intrauterine devices (IUDs) to health clinics throughout the state. According to state officials in 2017, it had resulted in a 64% decline in the teen abortion rate in eight years, state health officials claimed in 2017.
“Of course that opens up another issue then about birth control with the Catholic Church, but those are issues that we have to have discussions about and think about,” Carolan said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says contraception is a moral evil, explaining that any “action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible’ is intrinsically evil.”
Carolan emphasized to CNA that in his view, and the Biden campaign's, other pressing issues such as the separation of immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border, and the environment, are just as important as abortion.
“Every day 15,000 children die of starvation, of hunger diseases. You think God cares less about those children than those who die of abortion?” he asked.
The U.S. bishops' conference has said that while Catholics should weigh numerous issues in the voting booth, abortion is a priority.
In a 2020 letter, the bishop’s conference said that “the threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority because it directly attacks life itself, because it takes place within the sanctuary of the family, and because of the number of lives destroyed.”
The bishops’ letter adds that “we cannot dismiss or ignore other serious threats to human life and dignity such as racism, the environmental crisis, poverty and the death penalty.”
Religious freedom has also been at the center of presidential political debates.
Carolan downplayed the issue, telling CNA that “religious freedom” is a “word that’s misused, and it can be used for almost anything.” He claimed that “religious freedom” has historically been used to justify causes ranging from slavery to churches conducting same-sex marriages before Obergefell.
“We need to stop spreading the myth that our religious freedom is being violated,” Carolan said, noting that there is “not a war against Catholicism.”
During the campaign, Biden has said that he would reinstate the Obama administration’s rules for religious nonprofits on the HHS contraceptive mandate—thus potentially forcing Catholic groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, who say the rule violates their religious conscience, to go back to court.
Biden also says he will undo the Trump administration’s “broad exemptions” for religious groups to nondiscrimination laws—thus possibly opening the door to a flood of litigation against religious groups.