Can Democrats Be Pro-Life?

Election losses wonderfully concentrate the minds of politicians. As did November 2004.

Many Democrats seem to realize that “it’s the values, stupid.” Candidates such as presidential nominee John Kerry don’t share the views of the majority of Americans on cultural and social issues. Worse, many liberal elites demonstrate ostentatious contempt for those opinions.

As with the issue of abortion.

Being pro-life has been political death for any Democrat with national aspirations. Many on the left are unable to even contemplate a legitimate argument against legal abortion.

For instance, the satirical Weblog “BlameBush!” recently seemed to speak for some abortion activists when it opined that “we must protect a Woman’s Right to Choose and err on the side of inhumanity.” Which accurately captures the problem with the pro-abortion lobby: it does err “on the side of inhumanity.” That is a strange position for a party that claims to speak for the poor and disadvantaged.

A fetus is not a tumor or parasite, but a genetically unique developing human at most nine months away from full physical independence. More to the point for Democratic politicians, polls find an 8-point margin for the pro-life perspective.

The continuing success of pro-life candidates like President George W. Bush has caught the attention of some liberal thinkers and Democratic politicians. For instance, Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for Choice, recently observed: “those committed to the right to choose have felt forced to defend what appears to be an absolute right to abortion that brooks no consideration of other values – legal or moral. This often means a reluctance to even consider whether or not fetal life has value.”

Alas for the proabortion movement, “as the fetus has become more visible,” notes Kissling, “this stance has become less satisfying as either a moral framework or a message strategy.” Kissling still supports legal abortion, but admits: “The fetus is indeed a wondrous part of our humanity.”

Another abortion supporter worried about the absolutist rhetoric of the pro-choice movement is Sara Blustain, deputy editor of the American Prospect magazine. Although she doesn’t discuss the value of fetal life, Blustain worries about the stridency of liberal rhetoric about abortion. Indeed, she allows, “abortion is a right that ends in sorrow, not celebration.”

Leading Democratic politicians are focusing more on changing political strategies. The new Senate Minority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, has voted against abortion and criticized the seminal abortion case, Roe v. Wade. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., seems to be backing former Rep. Tim Roemer of Indiana for Democratic National Committee Chairman despite the fact that he has explicitly called for banning late-term or partial birth abortions.

Former Vermont Governor and presidential candidate Howard Dean, also running for DNC chairman, says: “We ought not turn our back on pro-life people.” Simon Rosenberg, another DNC chairman candidate, contends that “we have to explain our position that we want to make abortion safe, legal and rare” – President Bill Clinton’s classic formulation.

Party strategist Donna Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, admits: “Even I have trouble explaining to my family that we are not about killing babies.” Democratic consultant Howard Wolfson works with pro-abortion groups yet acknowledged that “Either we’re going to begin talking about this a different way and making our arguments effectively, or we’re going to keep losing.”

Some Democratic activists are now debating the wisdom of accepting popular restrictions on abortion – banning partial-birth procedures and requiring parental notification. A number of Democrats even advise against filibustering pro-life judicial nominees.

The Democrats might be serious. John Kerry recently told a meeting of Democratic activists that they had to demonstrate they didn’t like abortion. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro- Choice America, reportedly observed: “There was a gasp in the room.”

But that gasp exemplifies the Democrats’ challenge. Many activists still don’t understand what there is about abortion not to like.

As Frances Kissling points out, “Abortion is a profoundly moral question and any movement that fails to grapple with and respect all the values at stake” won’t win voter support. Some Democrats are listening, encouraging Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life.

But Democrats must walk the walk. It is not enough to talk about the unborn as life. Democrats must treat the unborn as life.


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