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ELECTION 2008 | Religious Groups, Abortion-Rights Opponents React to Proposed Democratic Party Platform

ELECTION 2008 | Religious Groups, Abortion-Rights Opponents React to Proposed Democratic Party Platform
[Aug 13, 2008]

Some religious groups are expressing "qualified support" for new language on abortion in a draft platform adopted by the Democratic Party Platform Committee, the Chicago Tribune reports (Brachear/Ramirez, Chicago Tribune, 8/13). Although the language appears to represent more of a change of emphasis rather than a radical change from past positions, it does "strike a chord" with some centrist evangelicals and Catholics who feel the goal of abortion-rights opponents and the Republican Party of overturning Roe v. Wade has been "futile" and has not reduced abortions or offered support to low-income women who undergo the procedure for economic reasons, Reuters' "Tales From the Trail" reports (Stoddard, "Tales From the Trail," Reuters, 8/12).

The draft platform says, "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 empower 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 postnatal health care, parenting skills, income support and caring adoption programs."

The party's previous platform states, "Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare" (MacGillis, "The Trail," Washington Post, 8/13). The draft platform will be presented to the party's national convention for approval later this month (Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 8/11).


Jim Wallis -- a pastor and founder of Sojourners, a liberal religious group -- said, "The Democratic Platform Committee really reached out to moderate religious leaders from evangelical and Catholic religious communities. The resulting language on abortion is a real step forward that provides some sorely needed common ground around reducing the need for abortion." Joel Hunter, former president of the Christian Coalition of America, added, "Pro-life voters of either party can now support" presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) "on the basis that more lives will be saved than if they had just taken a moral stand hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade." Hunter added, "Cynical partisan profiteers will find fault with the tone of this plank, but knowing the battle that went into the insertion of the new language, I am very encouraged that Democrats have widened their public support of mothers who choose life" (Lambro, Washington Times, 8/13).

Whether the new platform will help broaden Obama's appeal among antiabortion advocates and swing voters could depend on how well Obama "gives voice to the middle ground" while campaigning, "The Trail" reports. Tony Campolo of Eastern University said, "In the end, the interpretation of the platform lies in the hands of the candidate" ("The Trail," Washington Post, 8/13).

Some antiabortion advocates said they see little change in the draft platform, according to the Times. Deidre McQuade, spokesperson for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said that the draft platform "persists in its unapologetic promotion of abortion," adding, "Affirming the good of childbirth and adoption does not justify -- or in any way soften -- the party's official support for an intrinsic evil." Family Research Council President Tony Perkins noted that the platform adds the word unequivocally to its description of support for Roe. The new platform language "can work" among some voters for Democrats running against candidates such as Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who do not "like to talk about the issues," Perkins said.

Opinion Piece

The removal of the words "[s]afe, [l]egal and [r]are" from the previous Democratic Party platform "offers an opportunity to put an end to this self-destructive cycle ... otherwise known as regret, depression and self-denigration," Linda Hirshman, author of "Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World," writes in a Slate opinion piece. According to Hirshman, abortion-rights opponents since Roe have been unable to repeal the decision but have "made abortion as illegitimate as possible," and abortion-rights supporters have given "weak-kneed defenses." Obama and Supreme Court justices have made comments about women's "regrets" about abortion because "they suspect abortion is morally wrong," Hirshman writes.

According to Hirshman, as long as the Obama campaign does not "cast the platform into purgatory and pick an antiabortion candidate ... for vice president, the emancipation of women may once again become a legitimate political position," adding that "[i]t is time to revive the moral argument for protecting a woman's right to choose: Abortion is about the value of women's lives" (Hirshman, Slate, 8/12).