So-called "liberal" evangelical clergyman Jim
Wallis wanted to push "abortion reduction" into the Democratic Party
for Life wanted to extend health care coverage to fetuses (among other
measures, including an abortion reduction plank). Neither prevailed. Instead, the
proposed 2008 platform sheds 2004′s "safe, legal and rare" language in favor of a far more
expansive position in support of abortion access: "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 Dems also sign on for "affordable family
planning," "comprehensive age-appropriate sex education," and, surprisingly, given the scantly-opposed Hyde Amendment, support abortion access
regardless of a woman’s ability to pay for abortion care.
Cheering already? There’s more. Reproductive health care is included in the section entitled "Affordable,
Quality Health Care Coverage for All Americans," affording women’s health
advocates a measure of cautious optimism that reproductive health care coverage
might be included in
the mainstream progressive fight for comprehensive health reform. That
section also demonstrates the Democrats’ sensitivity to the extent to which
ideology has replaced science as the determinant of women’s health care
standards in the Bush administration:
We oppose the current Administration’s
consistent attempts to undermine a woman’s ability to make her own life choices
and obtain reproductive health care, including birth control…We will never put
ideology above women’s health.
whole section on "Opportunity for Women" talks
about fighting sex discrimination in pay, in math and science, and in the
workplace, and states an "unprecedented"
opposition to sexism itself. And this
year the platform explicitly includes a commitment to repealing the global gag
rule and restoring funding for UNFPA.
The 2004 platform argued for none of those.
Whose Common Ground?
Democratic Party evangelicals — including Jim Wallis himself — characterize the proposed platform’s stance on abortion as a step toward "some
sorely needed common ground." But three of the four of the specifically reproductive health-related planks I mentioned — support for Roe and for family planning, and acknowledging economic barriers to abortion access — characterize the
2004 platform, too. Wallis is right that it all sounds different now — but not because Dems are hesitant about the moral dimensions of women’s reproductive autonomy. If anything, the opposite is true.
Let’s closely read the sections on choice in the 2004 and 2008 sections. In ’04, the platform stated, "We stand firmly
against Republican efforts to undermine that right [to choose]. At the same
time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion
should be safe, legal, and rare." Sure,
accessible and affordable family planning can and does help reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy (a fact acknowledged in the 2008 platform – "We also
recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of
unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions"), but the ’08 platform proclaims its support for family planning independent of what effect it might have on the abortion rate. This year, Dems support "access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education" because both "empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives."
And what about those adoption incentives? No mention of those in ’08. Significantly, the adoption rate doesn’t have any affect on the rate of abortion, as the ’04 platform
implies it does. (In fact, only a miniscule number of women bear children with the intent to relinquish.) Suggesting that adoption incentives might
offset the need for abortion is politically appealing but factually untrue.
The practical distinctions
between the ’04 and ’08 platforms may not be vast. But there’s a world of difference between
supporting access to family planning because it expands women’s reproductive
self-determination – as we see in the ’08 language – and because it can reduce
the abortion rate – what ’04 supports.
An advocate for the latter doesn’t care whether family planning is
voluntary or coercive, and pays little attention to whether a woman is using contraceptives
in the context of her sexual health education and empowerment and overall access
to health care. The 2008 document
correctly emphasizes, first, reducing unintended pregnancy – not abortion alone. Crucially, the ’08 platform also supports the
rights of low-income women who do wish to parent to take care of their own
children, instead of suggesting that abortion or adoption are poor women’s only
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
Abortion Is a Moral Choice
Jim Wallis may be content, but evangelical author Tony Campolo threw
down the gauntlet: he wants Obama to proclaim that "abortion is a moral matter" at this weekend’s Saddleback
Civil Forum. Writes the TrailBlazers
author Tony Campolo, a member of the Democratic platform-writing committee,
said he wants to see Barack Obama talk about reducing abortions this weekend
when he and John McCain appear together at Saddleback
Church in Southern
California. Campolo said dealing with economic problems that
prompt some women to get abortions is important. But he wants Obama also to say
abortion is a moral matter — and that any efforts that reduce it are merited.
Obama, try saying this: abortion
is a moral matter. Why? Because access to safe abortion "is a measure of the value of women’s lives." Writes Linda Hirshman, "It is time to
revive the moral argument for protecting a woman’s right to choose." For
Hirshman, as for many feminists and religious people, the choice to terminate a pregnancy can be just as morally sacrosanct as the choice to sustain one. For the first time in many years of party platforms, the Democratic Party may be on its way to recognizing that.