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