"It's the economy, stupid!"--James Carville's memorable note-to-self during the 1992 presidential race--will be the determining factor in the 2012 campaign, according to the common wisdom. That may be true. But as Catholics consider their responsibilities between now and Nov. 6, it would be good to remember that the future of the pro-life cause in America is also at stake.
Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79. Justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy are 76. Justice Stephen Breyer is 74. The president elected in November will likely appoint two Supreme Court justices, and may appoint as many as four, over the next quadrennium. If that next president replaces Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kennedy with nominees who think that Roe v. Wade (1973) and Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992) were wrongly decided, there could conceivably be a 7-2 Court majority to overturn (or, in effect, gut) those dreadful decisions and return the abortion debate (and related life-issues questions like euthanasia) to the states. There, the pro-life cause would win some states (likely the majority) and lose some others. With national opinion polls showing a pro-life majority for the first time in a long time, however, the conditions would be right for legally advancing the cause in a dramatic way.
If, conversely, Justice Scalia (and Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, and possibly Kennedy) were to be replaced in the next presidential term by nominees favorable to the court's judgment in Roe and Casey, the radical abortion license created by those two decisions might well be set in federal legal concrete for the next 30 years. The pro-life cause would go on, but it would continue under severe federal legal restraints.
That this choice should present itself in partisan terms is a national tragedy. In the aftermath of the 1992 election, several of us gathered around Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania to plan a Democratic nomination challenge to President Clinton in 1996. Casey had been blocked by the Clintons from speaking at the 1992 Democratic convention; he combined a strong pro-life record with an appeal to the important voting bloc of "Reagan Democrats"; he had twice been elected governor of a crucial swing state; and whether or not he could wrest the Democratic nomination away from President Clinton, a strong Casey campaign in 1996 would have established two crucial points--the pro-life issue is a bipartisan one, and there is ample room in the Democratic Party for gung-ho pro-lifers.