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Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a Catholic liberal who has long opposed abortion, is worried about what he sees as the co-opting of the issue by the New Right. Says he: "The church we love is being used in a dangerous way. It has allied itself with those who would turn aside nearly all that the Catholic leadership and laity have stood for in this century." Leahy stresses that Catholic opposition to abortion has traditionally been related to a broader respect-for-life agenda that includes opposition to capital punishment and a concern for social justice, positions not shared by the New Right. Says Monsignor George Higgins, recently retired after 36 years with the U.S. Catholic Conference: "There is an increasingly grave danger that the Right-to-Life movement as a whole will be discredited as a right-wing sham."
Despite the internal dissent, the movement as a whole has become a very powerful political force, particularly at the state level. According to Peter Gemma, director of the National Pro-Life PAC, some $2 million was spent in the 1980 campaign by the hundred or so local and national antiabortion political action committees. But, he notes, "our real strength is in the grass-roots volunteers we can mobilize on behalf of a candidate." Says the direct mail consultant Richard Viguerie, a leading New Right strategist: "The guy who publishes the little anti-abortion newsletter in places like Iowa is very important to have on your side. If abortion remains an issue, and we keep picking liberals off, this movement could completely change the face of Congress." The National Conservative Political Action Committee found in its post-election studies that abortion was the most effective single issue to draw Democrats to Republican candidates. The pro-lifers are gloating about their contribution to the election of eleven antiabortion Senators last year. Jack Willke of the National Right to Life Committee describes that triumph as "Fantasy Island come