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)
This article is cross-posted from Spiritual Politics.