Make Room for Pro-Life Democrats

Democrats think all pro-life voters are conservative. But there are millions of votes at stake in this liberal miscalculation.

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But to be a "pro-life" Democrat is to be a very lonely political creature in America, as U.S. Catholic's Heidi Schlumpf explains in our cover feature. Former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, a pro-life Catholic, was denied the opportunity to speak at the 1992 and 1996 Democratic conventions. It didn't matter that Casey was progressive on economic and foreign policy questions and an outspoken supporter of women's rights; he didn't have the right position on abortion. Former Ohio Rep. Tony Hall, an evangelical Christian, experienced similar discrimination as a pro-life Democrat despite being perhaps the most courageous congressional champion on issues of hunger and poverty. The Democratic National Committee refuses even to allow a link on its Web site for pro-life Democrats.

On pragmatic grounds alone, not to mention the issue's importance as a matter of conscience for many Christians and others, the Democratic Party could take a more respectful and even dialogical approach. Democrats, like Republicans, could still take a strong party stance (their official position being pro-choice) yet offer space for different positions. Such a respect for conscience on abortion would allow many pro-life and progressive Christians the "permission" they need to vote Democratic.

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But if the Democrats were really smart they would do something more. And indeed, this is what candidate John Kerry should do. The Democrats could affirm that they are still the pro-choice party, but then also say what most Americans believe: that the abortion rate in America is much too high for a good, healthy society that respects both women and children. They could make a serious public commitment to actually do something about significantly reducing the abortion rate. Abortion is historically used as a symbolic issue in campaigns, and then forgotten when the election is over. Republicans win elections on the basis of their anti-abortion position, and then proceed to ignore the issue (and the nation's abortion rate, highest in the industrial world) by doing nothing to reduce the number of abortions.

Democrats could vow to change that by uniting both pro-choice and pro-life constituencies around goals that could become the basis for some new common ground, i.e. really targeting the problems of teen pregnancy and adoption reform-so critical to reducing abortion-while offering real support and meaningful alternatives for women at greater risk for unwanted pregnancies, especially low-income women.

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Jim Wallis
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