By Paul Tuns
The Interim

On May 30, former Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey died at the age of 68. He was a pro-life Catholic Democrat who criticized his party’s position on abortion and was ostracized for it.

Long plagued by various health problems, in 1987 Casey underwent quadruple bypass surgery. He also suffered from the genetic condition familial amyloidosis, which required a heart-liver transplant in 1993. In 1997, Casey was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent radiation treatment. He had spent much of the last year in and out of hospitals and he died of a serious infection at Mercy Hospital in Scranton.

As a pro-life Democrat, Casey was part of an endangered species in American politics. As Pennsylvania governor from 1986-1994, he gained national attention due to this distinction. In 1989, he signed the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act which led to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey. The Act contained several protective measures, including informed consent, a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent for minors. Although the Supreme Court reaffirmed the substance of Roe vs. Wade in its ruling on the case, dashing the hopes of many pro-life Americans, the court did uphold Casey’s Abortion Control Act. Over the three years after the law came into effect in 1994, the state saw a 20 per cent drop in the abortion rate.

The governor followed that up with a second term initiative that established the nation’s first public funding of life-affirming alternatives to abortion, which now meets the needs of 12,000 women facing crisis pregnancies each year.

For his pro-life leadership, Casey was awarded the Proudly Pro-Life Award by the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund in 1995.

As an outspoken pro-life advocate and politician, he was twice denied permission to speak at the 1992 Democratic Convention despite the fact he was governor of the nation’s fifth largest state. The fact that he believed “The unborn child is at the center of the cultural debate. Its the most important social question, the most compelling and far-reaching civil rights issue,” made him something of a pariah in his party.

Speaking of the Democratic Party’s pro-abortion plank, Casey said, “My party, the Democratic Party, should be the protector and claims to be the protector of the powerless … and that includes unborn children.” In 1994, he declined to endorse pro-abortion Democrats including the party’s Senate and gubernatorial candidates. In 1995 he began to mount a challenge against Bill Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination but dropped out, saying he lacked “the extraordinary energy level required by a national campaign.”

Casey once said that “What is called for now is very simple … It’s called leadership. Moral leadership of a high order. Gutsy leadership. Tough leadership that doesn’t back down, that keeps punching and fighting and keeps persevering until the end is reached over time, as it will be. But leadership also with a strong dimension of generosity and understanding, sending a message of civility and respect for opposing views, a message that bespeaks a true sense of community. Leadership which presents the protection of the unborn child from what it truly is: an imperative that flows naturally from the historical social justice mission of America.”

On May 30, America lost one great example of that kind of leadership.