Beliefnet News

By Jeff Diamant
2008 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) In the history of abortion politics, it was a key event: The 1992 move by Democrats to deny Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey Sr., an opponent of abortion rights, a speaking spot at the party’s national convention that year.
Bill Clinton, of course, won that presidential election, but the move barring Casey, a Democrat who hadn’t endorsed Clinton, is widely seen as alienating to millions of religious abortion opponents who felt the party no longer had a place for them.
This year the party is trying to change that perception, in line with other attempts to woo religious voters who in recent years have voted Republican by large margins.
Casey’s like-minded son, Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., an early supporter of presumptive nominee Barack Obama, has been given a speaking slot at the upcoming Democratic National Convention. And the party’s platform committee last week approved language that some liberal opponents of abortion say could draw back at least some of the alienated.
While part of the platform language maintains the party’s historic support for abortion rights, another part takes an approach that prominent abortion opponents in the party say could effectively reduce the number of abortions. In this vein it calls for better pre- and postnatal care, parenting-skills programs and income support, all meant to dissuade pregnant women who don’t think they can afford parenthood from having abortions.
“It was a historic step,” said the Rev. Tony Campolo, a member of the Democratic Platform Committee. “It was the first time the Democratic Party spelled out directly what it believed had to be done to reduce abortions in America.”
The platform will be voted on at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Aug. 25-28.
Republican Party platforms have historically sought to ban abortion.
Campolo said that people like him — Democrats who oppose abortion rights — should be practical and try to work with abortion rights advocates to bring down the numbers.
“Fifty-one percent of Americans consider themselves pro-choice,” he said. “This being the case, we are looking for common ground. We’re saying, `OK, if we can’t have our way 100 percent, can we at least come together recognizing … that abortions need to be reduced?”‘
Though Campolo said he hopes the language will lead Democrats to push for related legislation, there’s nothing close to a guarantee that will happen. Party platforms are supposed to showcase a party’s guiding principles, but in practice they carry little weight with elected officials.
“People who follow this issue closely are going to be impressed by it,” said Douglas Kmiec, law professor at Pepperdine University and former dean of the Catholic University Law School. “Because they know the influence that NARAL (NARAL Pro-Choice America) has had on the Democratic Party for decades.”
Campolo, too, is hopeful.
“We have given to Barack Obama enough language for him to take this language and mold it in a way that will draw Catholics and evangelicals, conservative Jewish people, Muslims, into seeing the Democratic Party as a party that is receptive to their beliefs about human life,” he said.
Still, staunch opponents of abortion will find plenty to detest in the Democratic platform language.
Like past party platforms, it effectively calls for taxpayer-funded abortions for the poor. And despite the additions, it left out a line from the 2004 platform that explicitly said abortions should be rare.
Also, in saying that health care and education reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and “also reduce the need for abortion,” it uses the word “need” in a way many abortion opponents find sickening.
“It’s never justifiable to kill a baby because you don’t have enough money,” said Larry Cirignano, who is active in a Catholic citizens group that opposes abortion. “They’re basically saying it’s OK unless you have money. … The platform makes it clear that they want to keep abortion legal.”

Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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