Obama’s and John McCain’s performances at the Saddleback Civil Forum prompted a great deal of confusion on where the candidates stand on reproductive
health issues. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne said the debate was a "sign that both
parties intend to fight for the votes of religious Christians." But
as Democrats head to Denver for their national convention
next week, many pro-choice groups are optimistic about the priorities
of the party on reproductive rights.
The DNC has titled Tuesday "Renewing America’s Promise," after the 2008 platform,
and one of the key components will be addressing women’s economic and social
issues. Delegates will hear speeches from Sen. Hillary Rodham
Clinton and Lily Ledbetter, whose lower court victories were overturned by the Supreme Court, making it much more difficult for women to sue for pay discrimination. Planned
Parenthood President Cecile Richards is also scheduled to speak on the importance of women’s
"Women’s health care includes
the whole range of women’s health care," said Planned Parenthood’s
Tait Sye, and noted that it doesn’t just include access to abortion,
even if that’s one important component.
At the convention, the party
is expected to officially accept the proposed platform. The platform was almost surprisingly friendly to reproductive health activists.
In other words, it doesn’t seem that there will be any floor fights
over the choice section of the party’s platform. The position on choice
has eliminated an emphasis on abortion reduction in favor of directly
attacking the Hyde Amendment, which has made abortion access much more
restrictive by preventing federal dollars from being spent on abortion care. The party’s platform also outlines women’s health care
as a priority along with an ambitious call for health care as a "basic
With health care consistently
ranking among the top five issues voters are worried about, choice groups
are noticing that women consistently make less money than men and spend
more on health care, Sye said.
This comes, however, on the
heels of a rather lackluster amount of candidate talk on health care
issues. Although a coalition of several groups pushed a remix of the famous
Harry and Louise ad,
the one largely attributed with killing health care reform in the 1990,
the new ad that supports health care reform hasn’t been brought to
the public candidate debate. Of the television ads released by the Obama
campaign in the last month, one mentioned health care, but only as one
of many symptoms of a bad economy and energy policy.
But with the Democratic National
Convention approaching, activists on every issue are seeking to promote their own cause. Women’s health care is getting a chance to be highlighted — whether or not it will break into the larger mainstream media narrative
remains to be seen.
But pro-choice groups aren’t
just working on messaging at the Democratic convention. They’re working
messaging at the Republican National Convention as well. Already, former
New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Joe Lieberman, both of whom
are pro-choice, are scheduled to speak at the convention in St. Paul.
In 1996 pro-choice delegates
at the Republican National Convention felt the party’s platform was
too conservative on abortion, so they wore yellow scarves that said
"Yank the Plank," according to Harry Rubenstein, co-curator of political
history at the Smithsonian Institution, as reported in the
Chicago Tribune. The pro-choice Republican group Republican Majority for Choice regularly cites the many Republicans who are uncomfortable
with the strong anti-choice stance that many activists have taken over
A poll that Planned Parenthood
conducted in February showed that about half of John McCain supporters
said they didn’t understand his position on choice issues very well.
After pro-choice McCain supporters are informed of his lackluster position
on choice, about
40 percent of pro-choice voters say they’re less likely to vote for
him. As part of Planned Parenthood’s "Know McCain" campaign, they released an ad featuring McCain claiming he didn’t "know
enough about" insurance companies covering Viagra and not birth control.
It’s clear that the Saddleback
debate, which featured an audience largely of religious conservatives, left voters perplexed as to where candidates stand on choice — perhaps intentionally so. But the
examination of the candidates’ records leaves their positions much
Pro-choice activists have
certainly been brought to the table to speak at the Democratic convention
and to formulate a reproductive justice-friendly platform. But unless
these issues are highlighted by the campaigns in addition to the activists, the party risks allowing progress on reproductive justice to fall by