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The Abortion Amendment Debate: What Kind of Power Do Catholics Have in the Democratic Party?

One of the most contentious aspects of this weekend's House health care debate was whether federally subsidized insurance plans should be allowed to offer abortion services. An 11th-hour deal to secure passage of the bill handed a victory to anti-abortion lawmakers, with the House including an amendment by Democratic congressman Bart Stupak in the final draft.

In a debate today on, William Galston argues that the passage of the amendment proves the influence that religion still holds over politics:

When it comes to social issues, religion matters among Democrats, not just Republicans. Of the 64 Democrats who supported the Stupak anti-abortion amendment, 35 (55 percent) are Catholic. In the Democratic caucus, by contrast, Catholics make up only 38 percent of the total. Put differently: 36 percent of House Democrats who are Catholic supported the amendment, versus 18 percent of non-Catholic House Democrats.

Alan Wolfe takes the opposing view, arguing that the incident particularly illustrates the waning power of Catholics:

The Stupak Amendment mirrored the situation facing Catholics in the whole country. From the 1930s to the 1950s, Catholics tended to agree on the main issues of the day: Most of them were liberal in economic terms and conservative on foreign policy. These days, Catholics are all over the map politically, even on issues on which their Church takes strong stands. According to a March 2009 Gallup poll, there are no significant differences between Catholics and other Americans on either abortion or stem cell research: 40 percent of Catholics find abortion morally acceptable and 63 percent have no problem with stem cells, compared to 41 percent and 62 percent of non-Catholics respectively. In its own way, the Stupak Amendment revealed the single most important truth about American Catholics: their unwillingness to blindly follow Church teachings.

Click here to read Galston's full argument. Click here to read Wolfe's full argument.