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Abortion Wars, Part XXVI: A New Platform

Yes, we (I) wade back into the never-ending story. But this time I am forced by events, as the Democratic platform committeehasapparentlyproposed new language for the party's abortion policy. Some will see it as a victory for Democratic pro-lifers, like those we discussed in the thread below--and I tend to agree--whileothers will see it as "yada yada yada." And I wonder if it will really give the party any traction with pro-lifers.Still, I think it is significant, and perhaps most interesting,a challenge to Republicans to expand on their rather brittle anti-abortion planks, which stress passing a Human Life Amendment and promoting abstinence.Here is Doug Kmiec's argument that this is a good thing--note thatKmiec was involved indrafting the new plank. Catholics United has also responded positively. And over at "Progressive Revival," I talk about whether 1) this is an improvement from a moral point of view and 2) whether it will work politically. (Answers: Probably, and probably not, at least now.) I would also recommend Steve Waldman's six-point critique. The most telling failure he notes, I think (after the absence of "moral language") is the lack of a "conscience clause."And CBN's David Brody has the draft language--which could be improved, worsened, or deleted--by the time we get to Denver.Here is the proposed plank: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 post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.Here is the current plank: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.

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I realize, of course, that it is pointless to point this out--but the one thing the DNC does not support, does not recognize, does not even consider is the fact that the child whose mother needs those pre and post natal programs is the same child who, just a few montsh earlier, the DNC platform would not recognize as a child and would instead support destroying--if its mother so "chooses." Whether these semantic changes will have any political impact is uncertain, but morally they are white wash on the sepulchre.

OK. let's see:Dems are no longer "proud" of their support for a woman's right to choose. They still oppose efforts to undermine that right, but not just by Republicans. Biggest difference is that they've added the bit about access to family planning and sex education, and support "informed choices" (carefully avoiding "informed consent"). They tie the bit about family planning and sex education to a lower abortion rate. They also support a woman's right to have a child and programs that will help her raise it or put it up for adoption.The language about "safe, legal and rare" is gone, which I think is a mistake.I can't see that the language is much of a step forward, but the fact that they're fiddling with the language is a good sign. I'd like to see them move toward something more like this:The Democratic Party is committed to providing a standard of care for all women such that none feels the need to choose abortion based on social stigma, fetal abnormalities, or economic necessity. While we believe that criminalization of abortion is counterproductive, we also believe that every abortions represents a failure of our society to adequately uphold the worth of all human life.

Jean: Send in that friendly amendment!

The proposed language is ...something, I guess. I'm not as enthusiastic about it as Douglas Kmiec is, though I admire Kmiec for being willing to cut much of his lifeline to the Republican Party on the aborton issue. The following will be most interesting to me personally:--the final language of the platform.--Obama's specific comments on the final platform language, and especially whether he addresses the moral language and conscience clause issues highlighted by Steven Waldman in his beliefnet post. --whether Senator Robert Casey Jr. speaks at the convention, and how much latitude he is given by party leaders to speak about pro-life issues.--whether DFLA will be permitted to move from the vicinity of the big tent into the center of the tent where high level decisions are made. --what the reaction to the proposed (and final) language will be from NARAL and Planned Parenthood. As currently drafted, these organizations could easily put a pro-choice spin on the language that some are heralding as giving pro-life Democrats a wedge issue. I think pro-choice organizations will be too savvy to make a big deal of the proposed language, but we'll see.

Jean,I strongly second the motion that you submit the amendment -- but the expectation of its being accepted (to quote a well-known commentator on Celtic Christianity) "takes a good imagination and maybe several shots of Tullamore Dew."

A world where a plank that begins with a statement unequivocal support for unrestricted abortion, and opposition to all efforts against it is seen as any kind of victory for pro-lifers is a twisted world indeed.I mean really, is there anything in there that even hints that abortion is at all a bad thing? The unborn deserve better.

The simple use of the word "child" is forward motion. Plenty of yada yada--but some forward motion. What effect do platforms actually have, by the way?

Kathy--Re platforms, I liked Michael Kinlsey's op-ed in the Sunday NYT, "Learning to read Democrat." http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/opinion/10kinsley.html

I strongly third David's and Fr. Imbelli's motions in favor of Jean's plank.As for the new language: The first sentence is of course the heart of the problem, and by dropping "rare", arguably it's worse than the current version. As for the commitment to pre- and post-natal care and all the rest of it: okay. Are there any precedents, anywhere in the world, that pumping more money into these programs appreciably decreases the number of abortions? (not asking rhetorically; I'd really like to know).I'm sorry, I don't see this as a significant step forward.

Using the word "child"--even in this very accommodated sense (the child "chosen" by its mother) shows, possibly, that there is some motion towards considering the humanity of the unborn. A big shift of mind, I think.

If any of the posters here actually believe that the Democrats have changed their minds about abortion--or are even in the earliest stages of thinking about changing their minds--they are either deluding themselves or attempting to delude the rest of us (which, of course, is the goal of the platform language: to attempt to delude pro-life voters and voters who are not already squarely in the pro-choice camp).When NARAL raises a howl--and gets slapped down by the DNC--THAT is when this will be change we can believe in ... (and even then it's pathetically minor wordsmithing ... as I mentioned in an earlier thread, a whole lot of people here are trying to convince themselves that it really is OK to vote for Obama and still consider yourself pro-life ... good luck!)

Whatever one thinks of the Democratic platform, one must consider the alternative, the GOP. Here is a link to some relevant excerpts:http://www.ontheissues.org/Celeb/Republican_Party_Abortion.htm And here is text (from a PDF) of the relevant existing language from the 2004 Republican platform...A lot of self-congratulatory bloviating (and will they stop ripping off the late pope's "culture of life" line?!), which is to be expected. But not much more. One wonders if that could change. "PROMOTING A CULTURE OF LIFE"As a country, we must keep our pledge to the first guarantee of the Declaration ofIndependence. That is why we say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right tolife which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitutionand we endorse legislation to make it clear that the Fourteenth Amendments protectionsapply to unborn children. Our purpose is to have legislative and judicial protection of thatright against those who perform abortions. We oppose using public revenues for abortionand will not fund organizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judgeswho respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.Our goal is to ensure that women with problem pregnancies have the kind ofsupport, material and otherwise, they need for themselves and for their babies, not to bepunitive towards those for whose difficult situation we have only compassion. We opposeabortion, but our pro-life agenda does not include punitive action against women whohave an abortion. We salute those who provide alternatives to abortion and offer adoptionservices, and we commend Congressional Republicans for expanding assistance toadopting families and for removing racial barriers to adoption. We join the President insupporting crisis pregnancy programs and parental notification laws. And we applaudPresident Bush for allowing states to extend health care coverage to unborn children.We praise the President for his bold leadership in defense of life. We praise himfor signing the Born Alive Infants Protection Act. This important legislation ensures thatevery infant born alive including an infant who survives an abortion procedure isconsidered a person under federal law.We praise Republicans in Congress for passing, with strong bipartisan support, aban on the inhumane procedure known as partial birth abortion. And we applaudPresident Bush for signing legislation outlawing partial birth abortion and for vigorouslydefending it in the courts.In signing the partial birth abortion ban, President Bush reminded us that themost basic duty of government is to defend the life of the innocent. Every person,however frail or vulnerable, has a place and a purpose in this world.

I'm disappointed in the language. I was hoping for more. The older platform's statement that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare" at least suggested that the act of abortion raised moral questions. In some ways, the new language is even more forceful in denying this.If there is a ray of light here, it is in the process rather than the outcome. As Steven Waldman observed, pro-life Democrats were more involved in the process of platform development than they had been in the past. That the DNC even feels a need to do this is a good sign.Just so we're clear, though, the case for Obama in November cannot depend on the argument that he will be, in any serious way, an advocate for the unborn. I think there are other arguments that can be made, but this is certainly not one of them.

Peter: I take it you disagree with Kmiec then. Be interesting to hear more, vis-a-vis what he says. But my question is who do you vote for? The GOP is no better, and arguably worse, on this issue. And sitting out the election is not encouraged by the bishops. Options?

I don't think the issue is so much about abortion as to the interference of the Catholic Church in the law of the land. The RCC has shown in any country where it has a concordat or more control that it is willing to impose its belief on the rest of the country. The church does not believe in religious liberty except when it favors the RCC. It goes directly against the thinking of John Courtney Murray. The next step will be to arrest any non-Catholic from receiving communion at a Catholic church. Likewise for any Catholic who receives at another church. It is using the state with force, something it did with the Donatists and continues to do when able.Other religions have very good reason to be wary of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It wants the Public Square to be totally Catholic. Or else. It is not an invitation but a hammer.

" as I mentioned in an earlier thread, a whole lot of people here are trying to convince themselves that it really is OK to vote for Obama and still consider yourself pro-life good luck!"Since one can say precisely the same thing about John McCain, I guess we can all put this litmus test thing behind us at this point.....

I sent in my suggestions to the party platform committee months ago.Maybe it's an exercise in futility, as Fr. Imbelli suggests, but it seemed more productive to me than sitting on my fanny, knocking back Tullamore Dew, and bitching.

David Gibson: Why do you say the GOP platfor is just "self-congratulatory bloviating...b[B]ut not much more."? Seems to me it is exactly what most non-partisan Catholics want - (1) 14th Amendment protections for all persons, including those in the prenatal stage of their natural lives, (2) materiel and other support for those who have unplanned pregnencies, and (3) non-punative measures towards the mothers who do have abortions. What else should it say?

Bill-Wow! That post covers a lot of breadth. From the Donatists of the fourth centurty to the abortion wars of the twenty-first. Few can move so breezily across time and space.One question: Would Sr Helen Prejean and those liked-minded be considered operatives of the RCC i their "trying to impose [their] belief on the rest of the country" or would that only apply to mitred men and right-wing fanatical Catholic pro-lifers? An honest question I hope.Thanks,Anthony

" as I mentioned in an earlier thread, a whole lot of people here are trying to convince themselves that it really is OK to vote for Obama and still consider yourself pro-life good luck!Since one can say precisely the same thing about John McCain, I guess we can all put this litmus test thing behind us at this point.."Ok, Unagidon, I'll bite ... why do you say that?FWIW, the New Republic has this article on its site, "Life Sentence", with the subtitle, " ... John McCain is a pro-life zealot."Here is a portion:"During his political career, McCain has participated in 130 reproductive health-related votes on Capitol Hill; of these, he voted with the anti-abortion camp in 125. McCain has consistently backed rights for the unborn, voting to cover fetuses under the State Children's Health Insurance Program and supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allowed a "child in utero" to be recognized as a legal victim of a crime. He has voted in favor of the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. funds from going to international family-planning clinics that use their own money to perform abortions, offer information about abortion, or take a pro-choice stand. And he has voted to appoint half a dozen anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, as well as Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. During the Bork hearings, McCain attacked the Court's creation of a right to privacy in Roe v. Wade: "Whether one is pro-or anti-abortion," McCain said in an October 1987 hearing, "it is difficult to argue that the Court's opinion is not constitutionally suspect." "

Yes, all fine and good for John McCain.The anti-abortion road is littered with the bones tossed to the faithful over the past 30 by the GOP. In this year when they don't have a policy leg to stand on in any area, McCain standing as the anti-abortion wing of the party's what, third or fourth possible choice in the area of religion and abortion is now presented as the Great White Hope for the abolition of abortion? Well, it's not going to happen. McCain may push through another war; will continue the buildup of the deficit and the transfer taxes from capital and labor, but for abortion we will see safe little efforts like the ones you have outlined. Maybe it's because the Right will never, ever punish anyone who claims to be "pro-life" but who doesn't really do anything for years and years. Maybe most people really know that it's all a game to keep the GOP in power for what really matters, which is money, money, money. Yes, I can see someone saying that there is a better chance of McCain shepherding an abortion ban through than Obama doing it, but that's like saying one is more likely to win the lottery by buying a ticket than not buying a ticket. In the end, the odds are 500,000,000 against,Still, I like this quote: Whether one is pro-or anti-abortion, McCain said in an October 1987 hearing, it is difficult to argue that the Courts opinion is not constitutionally suspect. Man could seriously twist his back covering all those bases like that.

But my question is who do you vote for? The GOP is no better, and arguably worse, on this issue.Can you clarify? Surely you're not saying that from the perspective of someone who is against abortion? Or perhaps you are, given your comment in an earlier thread in which you seemed to think (for what reason, I can't imagine) that the Democrats have sponsored a long list of anti-abortion legislation.

Unagidon: Could you clarify your comment about Senator McCain's quote - what bases is he trying to cover? It seems like an unequivocal statement as to the lack of constitutional basis for the Roe decision - in which case I guess one who has intimate knowledge of his motives could say he doesn't really believe that and is therefore pandering to Federalists, etc., But I don't see what you mean by the "twisting".

Dear MAT,McCain's statement isn't unequivocal. And it says nothing while appearing to say something. You think that McCain is against abortion, so you think that his statement is against abortion. Someone who supports "abortion rights" can easily read it differently, since McCain neither says nor even implies in that statement that he's against abortion. The closest that he gets to an unequivocal statement in that statement is that the Supreme Court decision was controversial; without actually saying where he comes down.He isn't twisting a categorical statement. He himself is twisting to hold all positions at once.

It appears that the GOP is more likely pro-life than the Dems. It's a long shot as to whether Roe vs. Wade will ever get overturned by either party; I doubt that it will. This issue is not getting much public press for either candidate. McCain is not making it a larger issue because his religious stances are lukewarm. Jean: Kudos for your statement and for sending it in!

"One question: Would Sr Helen Prejean and those liked-minded be considered operatives of the RCC i their trying to impose [their] belief on the rest of the country or would that only apply to mitred men and right-wing fanatical Catholic pro-lifers? An honest question I hope."Anthony,I think the mitred men have manipulated very good people. They even got to Ted Hesburgh. But these are the same men who supported Joe McCarthy. The biggest lie the bishops got too many to accept is that as disciples of Jesus Christ they belong in multi-million dollar mansions. Excuse poor Jesus for having no home at all. The irony is that they are as theocratic as many in Islam. They are smart enough not to show their hand. When the opportunity came they got all over the abortion issue. This was high place politics. Bush still got his appearance with the pope, remember, despite pushing the war. The Magnificat has no place among them. They just like it sung and ignored.Vatican II attempted to overturn the 4th century. Despite the moneyed restorationists, V II has had much success. Rome knows power.

Unagidon: I can only speak for myself, but I have no idea if Senator McCain is personally opposed to abortion. To me, and again, I can only speak for myself, he seemed to be very clearly laying out a fairly routine restatement of the Federalist position on the majority opinion in the Roe v Wade civil action which appeared before the Supreme Court. And for a Federalist such as he is, it would be quite shocking for him to express a personal opinion on abortion in a Judiciary Committee hearing. I think much of your interpretation of his statement probably stems from you having a fundamentally different view of constitutional law than the Senator's Federalist views.

Stuart, and MAT--The earlier posts on this topic turned up no evidence of any GOP pro-life record, which would seem to indicate that the party is using "pro-life" talk (culture of life!) for political ends. (And of course the Dems are using the pro-choice issue for the ame reasons.) MAT, the GOP platform says nothing about enacting policies that would actually lower abortion rates. The human life amendment is a non-starter, no way no how. This kind of velleity on abortion also means the church is being used, or some in the church are using the issue. At worst I think you'd have to say that voting either way is a wash as far as abortion goes.

David:I'm taking a break from installing a bathroom faucet to answer your question, but for that reason it may not be complete as I would like...:-)I was not suggesting that disappointment with the Democratic platform on abortion must necessarily lead to embracing the GOP in November. Speaking for myself, foreign policy concerns will probably be uppermost in my mind this fall. To say that I am deeply anxious about the people advising the Republican nominee on foreign policy would be a laughable understatement if the stakes were not so high. But we can get into that issue another time.What bothers me, though, is the tendency of Democrats with pro-life sympathies to make their choice easier by convincing themselves that their chosen candidates are better on abortion than they actually are. I don't really see much evidence (and, yes, I've read his book) that Obama is deeply troubled by our society's widespread acceptance of abortion, although he shows evidence of being more respectful of people with pro-life views than many Democratic elected officials. But these are not the same thing. On a related matter, I simply can't agree that the Republican party has been "arguably worse" on abortion. I don't disagree that they have played politics with the issue, but the fact remains that, as a party, they have been significantly more willing to challenge of our culture of abortion than the Democratic Party.Having said that, I agree with you that the HLA is a non-starter and if you had to put me on a spectrum between "culture change" and "regulation" as to how to deal with abortion, I'd probably lean more toward the former than the latter. But there cannot be "culture change" if we can't say, clearly and directly, that abortion is the taking of innocent human life. The draft platform language fails this test and in some ways falls below the original language. As for Doug Kmeic, I think he is a thoughtful man and I respect the consistency with which he has pressed Obama on abortion this year. Those of us who have sent letters to Sen. Obama on this issue know full well he has probably never had time to read them, so it's nice to know someone with similar views is actually in the position to have a personal conversation with the man. In the final analysis, my feeling is that it is perfectly acceptable to vote for Obama because he is less likely to get the United States into a shooting war with a country with the second largest nuclear arsenal on the planet. There are also certainly a lot of other reasons to support and even be enthusiastic about the idea of him as President. I just don't think abortion is one of them. Sigh...must run...the sink awaits...

To me, losing this language feels like a big change for the better: "Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a womans right to choose..." At least the new proposal drops the insulting suggestion that supporting abortion is automatically and self-evidently pro-woman (and the implication that the only reason to oppose abortion is that you don't value "the privacy and equality of women"). Using the phrase "a woman's right to choose" to bypass intelligent discussion peeves me, and I'd be very happy not to see it deployed quite so dishonestly in the new platform.

The earlier posts on this topic turned up no evidence of any GOP pro-life record, I don't understand where you're coming from, because that strikes me as a blatant falsehood. Are you giving some idiosyncratic meaning to "no evidence"? Or perhaps "pro-life record"? I think any normal person would agree that there's at least some "evidence" in the following: 1) Supreme Court Justices that oppose Roe (not an unblemished record, to be sure, but 3 out of the last 4 Republican appointments are solid on this measure); 2) partial-birth abortion bills on the federal level and in about 30 states; 3) parental consent and/or notification legislation; 4) bans on government funding of abortion, whether domestically or internationally; 5) the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act; 6) the proposed act making it illegal to transport minors across state lines to get abortions. And more. So again, what are you talking about?

Well at Slate Linda Hirshman put up the rhetorical equivalent of an end zone dance, proclaiming that the new platform's language gives pro-choice people the opportunity to re-claim the moral high ground, and stop being ashamed of abortion.Not that we have to think that what's good for Linda Hirshman is bad for Catholics and pro-lifers, but I think its unlikely that a platform that she would celebrate signals a new openness from the Democratic party to the pro-life position.It's possible that she is trying to salvage some sort of victory from defeat, but that her claim is at all plausible should be sufficient to indicate that, at the very least, the propesed platform language does not represent a significant pro-life victory.

Peter--Thanks for the extended response, especially given what I would consider the more pressing concerns of plumbing issues. (Not that you'd ever want me in charge of plumbing; wallpaper, perhaps.) Your take on it all is food for thought--having foreign policy uppermost in your mind is intriguing, and comports with some ambivalent (toward the GOP) folks like Rod Dreher. Yet the oft-cited view is that abortion trumps everything, hence the debate...As a note, I'd say that I press in on this entire issue to help clarify matters for myself, and because I think so much is taken for granted in these debates. That is not unusual, but the disturbing thing to me is how easily our political/policy assumtpions are then translated into pastoral policy/practice (denying communion, etc). Too many unexamined assumptions seem to be reinforcing each other, and very much to the detriment of the church and the pro-life cause, however broadly or narrowly one construes that. My sense is that this debate comes down to a divide between the "central conservative truth" that change begins with individuals and first principals, and the "central liberal truth," that change is cultural and societal and communal. There are many shades in between, but not enough, I think. In the ecclesiastical sphere, these things translate into questions about cooperation with evil, "material" cooperation, conscience, and other matters that I leave to you and others with expertise. Thanks again to all who have contributed to these threads (and continue to do so).

I'm likewise struck by the dropping of the "safe, legal and rare" language from the proposed amendment.

John McG--Thanks for the link to the Hirshman piece. I'm not sure what she was trying to do there, but it has the whiff of desperation--claiming a moral high for abortion, and saying that has been affirmed as never before? I suspect this is the next phase of much spin to come on what the plank means.

In any case, I think our task now is to push both parties to embrace life as much as possible. Then, later in the campaign, we can evaluate each party's stance against the other, take into account their history (e.g. the Republicans' tough talk on abortion vs. what they have done for the unborn when in power), and come to a decision.But I think its apparent that there is significant room for improvement in the Democratic platform to embrace the unborn, even in the context of their historical alignment with the pro-choice movement, and I think Catholics work for that improvement before committing our support.

Sorry, in citing the New Republic article about McCain and abortion yesterday, I neglected to provide the URL. Here it is:http://www.tnr.com/politics/story.html?id=3483eb20-9228-4700-9557-57a47a... point of the article, which is written from a pro-choice perspective, is to dispel the seemingly-common misconception that McCain is somehow ambivilant or unclear about abortion. It succeeds, in my opinion.

"Still, I like this quote: Whether one is pro-or anti-abortion, McCain said in an October 1987 hearing, it is difficult to argue that the Courts opinion is not constitutionally suspect. Man could seriously twist his back covering all those bases like that."Whereas the injury risk here is eyestrain from parsing proposed Democratic platform planks for some sign of pro-life progress. :-)

I applaud Jean's efforts at strengthening the Dem plank, but I also think planks are esentially meant as hot air generalities for party consumption.I do have a quick question: since the nominees were named, how many threads and posts here have ben devoted to the abortion issue and how many to the total areas put forth in the Bshops statement including its request to focus on the common good *which apparently several fol khere have trouble understanding?)

"I also think planks are essentially meant as hot air generalities for party consumption."Yes, you have to wonder how much clout these planks wield. There are pro-lifers running as Democrats in my area who have been unashamedly for informed consent, parental notification, ban on partial-birth abortion, etc. Nobody's kicked them out of the party on the basis of the platform, old or new.While I think the change in the language is mostly a wash, it may be a tad less militant in its support of abortion. The more important sign is that the party's bothering to revisit the plank. l. Perhaps it's beginning to get some scent of changing sensibilities among those who matter to the party's success.

I am just amazed that so many of us actually believe the Republican party cares one iota about abortion. It is an issue for them which is absolutely political. It is all power and no morality.

I am just amazed that so many of us actually believe the Democrat party cares one iota about poverty. It is an issue for them which is absolutely political. It is all power and no morality.

Poverty is in the Magnificat, Sean.

[...] of the machinations that led to the altered language on abortion in the Democratic platform, as we all discussed here. I think it shows how much Obama was able to accomplish under difficult circumstances. As at [...]

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About the Author

David Gibson is a national reporter for Religion News Service and author of The Coming Catholic Church (HarperOne) and The Rule of Benedict (HarperOne). He blogs at dotCommonweal.