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August 12, 2008

Not pro-abortion

In their proposed new platform language, the Democrats toss a bone to the pro-life community by spelling out ways to make abortion rarer:

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.

Brody, who's got the old and new text side by side, is somewhat impressed--but claims that the proof of the pudding will be whether the Democrats in general and candidate Obama in particular say they're prepared to sign on to concrete anti-abortion measures such as parental notification. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one. Douglas Kmiec, who as Obama's most prominent conservative Catholic supporter had a hand in the new language, contends that it represents a significant (if not, by his lights, sufficient) move. Naturally, his erstwhile friends on the right don't think so, and are contemptuous of him for making the case. They recognize that the language will enable Obama and party to make the case that they are not, as the pro-life community always puts it, "pro-abortion."

The abortion battle between Democrats and Republicans has always involved a complicated dance of absolutes and increments. The party platforms have historically been the place for the absolutes, with the Republicans declared in opposition to abortion under all circumstances and the Democrats in absolute support of a woman's right to choose. But the real abortion game has always been played in the middle--up to and including Roe v. Wade, which never guaranteed choice in any and all circumstances.

Partisans love the absolutes, but the public at large doesn't. Americans' predominant view is that abortion is a bad thing that under some circumstances is preferable to the alternative. In 1996, Ralph Reed (then executive director of the Christian Coalition) proposed helping Bob Dole's presidential candidacy by making the GOP's abortion plank less rigid via language acknowledging that the American public was not ready for an absolute abortion ban. And while the pro-life corps handed him his head for his pains, that's the position George W. Bush articulated in 2000 and never abandoned, his party platform notwithstanding. Moreover, the pro-life agenda became purely incrementalist--ranging from parental notification to banning the "partial-birth" abortion procedure.

What the Democrats are now signaling is that they are prepared to undertake policies that do more to reduce the number of abortions than the Republicans' incrementalist measures. For pro-lifers willing to sacrifice principle for results, it's a pretty good argument. Especially when they consider how little the Republican increments have achieved. This a.m. at 11, a conference call with the media will be held by the group of Catholics and evangelicals most supportive of the new language. Here they are:

  • Rev. Tony Campolo, Eastern University, author of The Red Letter Christians, and member on the Democratic Platform Committee
  • Rev. Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland Church (Orlando, FL), author of A New Kind of Conservative and former President of the Christian Coalition
  • Dr. Lisa Cahill, J. Donald Monan, S.J., Professor of Theology at Boston College
  • Douglas Kmiec, Chair & Professor of Law at Pepperdine University, and the former Dean of the The Catholic University Law School
  • Chris Korzen, Executive Director of Catholics United and author of A Nation For All
  • Rev. Jim Wallis, Founder and CEO of Sojourners, the largest network of progressive Christians in the United States, and best-selling author of God’s Politics and The Great Awakening (HarperOne 2008)

Stay tuned.

This article is cross-posted from Spiritual Politics.


Since when does our constitution treat murder as a "bad thing" to be preferred over something worse? Can anyone prove that a fertilized human embryo is not a human being? If so, who says the criteria they're using is legitimate? What if they're wrong and we're institutionalizing the murder of millions of innocent children within our own borders? The thing is, they are wrong, both scientifically and theologically. God help us to get our heads out of the sand and our butts off our hands.

Matt, I think you're absolutely right, btu I think the subject is difficult. In murder, the case is very clear and regulation (regulation, I think is the key practical concern here) is also clear. With abortion, the case is often less clear. If a woman has a miscarriage, are you willing to do an investigation into whether or not it was a type of manslaughter? Did the mother drink too much and do drugs, or participate in a risky activity that terminated the pregnancy? Would you hold her accountable for that? If not, then where do you draw the line? What if the woman goes in for another problem and there is an "accidental" abortion. Do we have to look at intent and other legal concerns? To me, these questions all suggest that the you cannot equate abortion to murder. It is very murky water and one that I know I do not want even the state governments' hands in. And I am a man, so these things really wouldn't affect my own privacy. I understand that this is a difficult position, but I think that abortion reduction programs are the only sound way to approach this terribly sensitive and difficult subject in a way that is both morally sound and practical. God Bless.

I'm sorry but after reading and comparing the language, I just do not see that these pro-lifers have pulled off any sort of victory at all. Frankly, the Clintonian language from the 2004 platform at least set forth the goal that abortion should be "rare". At least, that language recognized the core concept that each and every abortion is a tragedy. That language is now COMPLETELY gone from the Democratic Plank.

Instead they espouse sex-ed, government healthcare and various generalized solutions ... However, the GOAL espoused in these proposed measures isn't even making abortion rarer, they simply point out as almost a side comment that they believe these will reduce abortions.

NOTE that emphasis on building communities that value abstinence and sex within marriage were not included in the list of ways to reduce abortion.

One additional comment to Matt and Brian. You both make great points.

Matt, you're right ... According to the Alan Guttmacher institute there have been over 48 MILLION abortions. What if Planned Parenthood and the Supreme Court is wrong? Where does this place us as a society against the most murderous regimes we can imagine?

That said "Murder" is a loaded term. As Brian points out, there are multiple levels of responsibility. And given the emotional states and trauma of those choosing abortion, abortion would rarely rise to that standard.

For me a better analogy is slavery, because both abortion and slavery fundamentally devalue God's imprint on our humanity, and both were based on the choices of others not a fundamental fact of whether the person's humanity deserved protecting. Fortunately, society eventually got it right on slavery and determined that race should not determine one's humanity ... Hopefully, we will quit drawing a line at birth and start protecting all children at some point as well.

Some of the language used in this article is almost as duplicitous as the "party' platform vs party peformance".

For example what does "...Roe v. Wade, ... never guaranteed choice in any and all circumstances" mean? Did not Roe V. Wade make abortion on demand available to all women in America?

Then we are told that "...Americans' predominant view is that abortion is a bad thing that under some circumstances is preferable to the alternative". Does this mean what I think it means? Is it true there are times when the death of an innocent is preferable to its life? Is abortion "under certain circumstances" the lesser of two alternatives (evils)? I thought that the philosophy which says that "death is preferably to life" was regarded as barbaric and inhumane, and no longer applies even to the worst criminals. It seems I was wrong!

I find it incredible that this is said to be the "predominant view" of Americans? If the writer is correct it would mean that Americans do not understand that every abortion means one less life and is therefore by definition always a "bad thing", and all the good intentions in the world does not change that.

I also have some problems with the abortions shold be "rare" crowd.
Abortion on demand and abortion being rare are incompatible. As long as "convenience" is a criteria for abortion, and Roe V. Wade is the law, those who support abortion have no choice but to make it safe, and no good reason for making it "rare".

All this article tells me is that Americans "predominantly" are as confused on abortion as politicians.