Abortion and the Democratic Platform

The draft language of the Democratic platform was released and, strangely, both pro-choice radicals and pro-life Democrats claimed victory in how the text treated abortion. How can that be? And who will be proven right?

Writing in Slate.com feminist Linda Hirschman was delighted that the Democrats had removed the construction, first used by Bill Clinton, that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." The ambivalence provided by the third adjective, rare, accurately reflects the way most people feel about abortion, including most Catholics. But Hirschman took offense because this suggests abortion is a bad thing that should be avoided, a "necessary evil" and she does not view it as such. Hirschman writes of efforts to limit the number of abortions since the Roe v. Wade decision, "if Roe was Emancipation, the past three decades have felt like the Jim Crow South." Of course, Roe was emphatically not emancipation and Hirschman seems inalert to the fact that the Supreme Court -- the antebellum Court of Roger Taney like the 1973 Court that decided Roe -- in both instances ruled that certain human beings were without rights and what liberty they had was contingent entirely upon the will of another human being.


On the other hand, long-time pro-life legal scholar Doug Kmiec views the new language in the Democratic platform as a step in the right direction because it calls for renewed efforts to lower the number of abortions. "The explicit call for greater respect for prenatal assistance, paid maternity leave, and if a woman is unable to raise her child, a sensitively structured and caring adoption system," all point to a Democratic Party that is looking for a new approach to this intractable issue Kmiec argues. "To have the Democrats in the "strongly support" column for these measures in favor of life should not go unnoticed."

So, who is right? Here is the platform plank in its entirety: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empowers people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs."

The key focus here is on the woman who is contemplating a pregnancy and that bodes well for the future of the Democratic Party if it is willing to look at this issue squarely and honestly. NARAL and NOW may be focused on abortion as an instance of female autonomy, a protean assertion of self against nature, but most women who are actually facing a crisis pregnancy are scared, worried, and conflicted. Their situation is only secondarily about abstract legal theories. They do not want to strike a blow for feminism. They want to find a humane way out of their situation. It is up to the rest of us to make the choice to carry the child more accessible as well as a more humane and humanizing choice. In this regard, the Democratic platform is on the right path. The thorough and unqualified endorsement of Roe is a big pill to swallow, and some may not be able to swallow it. But, Kmiec is right that the Democrats are moving in the right direction.

Michael Sean Winters


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10 years 7 months ago
Although the new platform will not convince me to vote democratic this time, I think we can be encouraged by the fact that the party is even attempting to appeal to pro-life voters. In the past, the party has been openly hostile to anyone who would even try to call themselves "pro-life democrats." If nothing else the platform language appears to be a recognition that a democrat cannot win the White House unless they downplay the strident pro-abortion position of the party and at least appear to be appeasing pro-life voters. True the platform language no less supportive of abortion than previous platforms, but when was the last time we even needed to discuss whether the democrats were softening their strident position. This is all the more interesting in view of Obama's own postion on abortion. Like the American ping-pong team's trip to China in the 70's, the 2008 Democratic platform on abortion will be important, if at all, not for what it is but for what it leads to in the following decades.
10 years 7 months ago
Despite the views of Linda Hirschman (reported by Michael Sean Winters), I doubt few women or feminists see abortion as a good in itself, even if they think it is a necessary option. The Democratic Platform, as supported by religious leaders and churches, gives us a chance as ''common good'' Catholics who are also pro-life to come together with others who really want to make a difference in reducing abortions and supporting women and families. Faithful Citizenship 07 says not only that things like hunger, health care, education and work are issues of ''human life,'' but also that protecting life requires ''prudential judgment and 'the art of the possible,''' even in the cse of abortion. The current administration has done virtually nothing to limit the legal right to an abortion. Besides, overturning Roe would simply return the issue to the states. Most would allow abortion, and women could travel to other states, or even use illegal abortionists. Studies in the US and Europe show that where social support programs rise, abortion rates fall. Pregnant women and working families need jobs, a decent wage, tax breaks, health care, housing, and parenting support or adoption. Obama has proposals on all of these. McCain voted against SCHIP, has no universal health care plan, and still favors disproportionate tax benefits for the wealthy. If we who are Catholic, Christian or ''pro-life'' can't get past divisions over Roe v. Wade, we are going to miss an opportunity. Let's make common cause with others who seek a more holistic and realistic approach to abortion and see if together we can get something done.
10 years 7 months ago
A response to Joe S. I can understand your cynicism on this latest move being a ''clever ploy'', but in fact it represents a fundamental change in the thinking of the people in the party. Democrats have made great strides since 2002 in viewing the problem as less of a ''choice'' issue, but one where every abortion is a tragedy. They have a legislative record to back it up. Many new positive ways of looking at this problem have been proposed. Congress has shown, with their Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act bill (HR 1074) and the Prevention First Act (HR 819) bill, they are serious about finding new solutions to serious problems posed by the practice of abortion. These efforts have been supported by Democrats and Republicans. Congress has also worked on making other alternatives more attractive, including adoption, with the Adoption Promotion Act of 2003, which is now Public Law No: 108-145. Just as the new language on abortion will help to reframe the discussion, Congress' new approach could be a forerunner of a strategy that will avoid the divisiveness of the past, and give a glimmer of hope that we can make real progress on this issue in the future. Links to this can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/3q7mka Now, admittedly I am not necessarily the best source, since I am a Democratic party activist, but I am also a Catholic, and someone who believes in the ideals of both, and hopes to reconcile where they do not agree. And I am not the only one.
10 years 7 months ago
''On the right path''...really? I would like to think so, but I really have to doubt that this represents any sort of substantive shift in ideology. Yes, more pro-life democrats are being brought into the discussion, but my guess is that this is little more than a clever bit of word craft in an attempt to give us who happen to be both democrats and Catholics a little election year balm for our sore consciences. Yes, the important work of reducing the factors that might lead someone to seek an abortion out of desperation and of making sure that the child is cared for after birth as well are things that we can all agree on. However, as long as there is in the leadership of the party a fundamental support for abortion on demand at almost any stage of the pregnancy for any reason at all, coupled with a complete inability to see the right of the unborn as a fundemental social justice issue...well, I doubt that the path that we are on can be called in any way ''right.'' I don't know what I'm going to do in November, but as a pro-life democrat, I can't say that this bit of nuanced manipulation has helped my opinion of my party.
10 years 7 months ago
The 1st sentence is why I cannot, and will not, support the Democratic plank: "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." This is directly at odds with Catholic values. To claim they are moving in the right direction is buying their strawmen.
10 years 7 months ago
A platform that calls for tax-supported contraception, mandatory sex education, and implies that taxpayers should pay for abortion--hence the support for a ''woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay''--is an improvement from a Catholic perspective? I would hate to see what a bad abortion plank would look like. If we Catholics were serious about our opposition to abortion, Roe v Wade would have been overturned years ago. Instead, we allow Republicans to pay lip service to the issue, and make excuses for Democrats who actively support the murder of innocent unborn children.
10 years 7 months ago
Some Catholics will only read the abortion planks of both platforms---nothing more. Some Catholic bishops will do the same.


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