Catholic bishops across the United States will take a page from the revivalist’s book next month, and in the process they may learn just how big an issue abortion will be for Catholic voters in November. Every parishioner at mass October 3 (just a month before the presidential election) will be asked to sign a decision card renewing his commitment to the sanctity of life. The cards will be collected at the exits, and diocesan pro-life coordinators will then tally the results and report them to the bishops’ Washington headquarters.

The unprecedented decision-card procedure, officially called a “bicentennial reaffirmation,” is just one indicator of the role being played by religion in this year’s presidential politics. Abortion is only one of the “religious issues” in the campaign, and Jews, liberal Protestants, and evangelicals are just as involved as the Catholics, but so far, it has been the issue receiving the most attention. Democratic nominee Jimmy Carter has been working since his party’s convention to try to undo the damage his platform writers did when they inserted a plank opposing an anti-abortion constitutional amendment.

The former Georgia governor sought a conference with Catholic hierarchy leaders, and the bishops finally granted a meeting with their executive committee on August 31. Among those present was New York’s Cardinal Terence Cook, chairman of national pro-life activities. After the one-hour session in Washington, Archbishop Joseph L. Bernardin of Cincinnati, president of the bishops’ conference, announced, “[Carter] did not change his position. At this time he will not commit himself to supporting an amendment. We therefore continue to be disappointed with the governor’s position.”

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