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News broke yesterday that Senator Robert Casey Jr. will address the Democratic Convention in Denver later this month. For many Catholics, this is an important symbol and step towards healing the bitter disappointment that so many of us experienced in 1992 when Casey’s father was denied a speaking role because of his pro-life commitment.
This milestone came in the same week that many were abuzz about the revised abortion language of the Democratic platform, and whether it signals a new desire to seek common ground with pro-life voters. Several Catholic commentators, including Lisa Cahill of Boston College, weighed in during a recent press briefing.
The platform language still affirms a commitment to the legal status of abortion. For the first time, however, it includes language that reflects the spirit and intent of Sen. Casey’s own legislation, the Pregnant Women’s Support Act, which is modeled after a policy platform proposed by Democrats for Life, the “95-10 Initiative” (for reducing abortion 95% in 10 years.)
Casey’s bill reflects his own stated adherence to Pope John Paul II’s call for “radical solidarity with women.” This understanding suggests that a pro-life commitment must be accompanied by a radical support and respect for pregnant women and their families. The Casey bill and 95-10 both reflect the call by Pope John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae, which called for “ensuring proper support for families and motherhood.” Even further he suggested rethinking “labour, urban, residential and social service policies so as to harmonize working schedules with time available for the family, so that it becomes effectively possible to take care of children and the elderly. (90).”
My problem with the abortion debate is that the solidarity to women and families articulated so powerfully by Pope John Paul is usually so severely lacking. Too often, some commentators on these issues show minimal solidarity with women, and frankly they can display quite the opposite.
While Sen. Casey will likely speak to a broad range of issues in Denver, including the dire straits of working and middle-class Americans, I hope he also shares his pro-life vision with the delegates. For as much as the leaders of both political parties get stuck in “either-or” rhetoric on the abortion issues, Casey’s comprehensive approach can offer a way out of this polarized quagmire. The deep call within centuries of Catholic social teaching is for a culture that puts human life and dignity over materialism, community over excessive individualism, and principle over profit. Now there’s an agenda we can all get behind.