Pro-lifers labelled the Democratic National Convention “Abortion-Palooza” after Barack Obama and numerous speakers highlighted “abortion,” “choice,” and “reproductive rights” in their speeches. After four years in power, Obama presides over an economy that remains in shambles and a world as unstable as dangerous as he inherited (if not more), so Democrats had to find something – anything – to talk about other than the president’s obvious failure to address the United States’ most immediate problems. Talking endlessly about abortion changes the channel from high unemployment, rising fuel and food prices, and overall economic uncertainty.
The move, which pleases the left-wing base of the party – a May 2012 Gallup poll shows that a third of Democrats are pro-life — risks alienating independent voters. Gallup’s annual poll of attitudes about abortion show most people think abortion should be banned all or most of the time and a (slight) majority of Americans describe themselves as pro-life. Political observers say the strident pro-abortion strategy is a calculated risk to shore up support among the Democratic base, especially single women, those with graduate degrees, and people who do not attend church. Those groups tend to be more liberal than most Americans, especially on moral issues.
While the media says that there is a gender gap between Republicans and Democrats, that’s not entirely true. Married women are evenly split, backing Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in roughly equal numbers. But about two-thirds of single women vote Democrat, and Obama wants to keep those numbers up by talking about abortion.
At the DNC, Obama was not the only speaker to highlight abortion. First Lady Michelle Obama, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro made mention of abortion, as did former Republican Maria Ciano, who listed “the right to choose” as among her considerations for switching parties. Actress Kerry Washington mentioned abortion in her speech and Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of president John F. Kennedy talked about being Catholic and concerned with “reproductive health care.”
Most telling, however, was the inclusion of pro-abortion activists on the stage. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and student activist Sandra Fluke, who plumps for taxpayer funding of birth control.
Michelle Obama said the campaign was about “women making our own choices about our bodies and our health care.” Fluke said if the Republicans won, there would be, “an America in which you have a new vice president who co-sponsored a bill that would allow pregnant women to die preventable deaths in our emergency rooms.” Former Republican Ciano said if Obama was re-elected, “our right to make our own most personal choices will be safe for another generation.” Planned Parenthood’s Richards claimed Romney is campaigning “to overturn Roe v.Wade,” and “we won’t let him.”
The Democrats have run on a pro-abortion plank since 1980, but the prominence of the issue is new. Keenan, Richards, and Fluke were all given prime time speaking spots. As Ramesh Ponnuru stated in a National Review cover story, “what has changed is that the Democrats of 2012 are expressing their support of abortion with a degree of rhetorical aggressiveness that they have in the past shied away from. President Obama is running for re-election with the most strongly pro-abortion message of any national campaign in history.”
Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life, said in a press release: “Beginning with an unapologetically pro-abortion platform and ending with the nomination of the most pro-abortion President this country has ever seen, the 2012 Democratic National Convention was truly an abortion convention.” She added: “With the invitation of speakers such as Nancy Keenan and Cecile Richards, the DNC proudly showed their dedication to an extreme no-limits abortion policy.”
Daniel McConchie of Americans United for Life wrote in the Daily Caller, “If you tuned into the Democratic National Convention earlier this month and were momentarily confused as to whether C-SPAN was actually covering a huge abortion rally, you are not alone.”
It wasn’t only pro-lifers who noticed the Obama extremism. Melinda Henneberger, a political writer for the Washington Post, said the Democrats “used to be about more” than abortion. Feminist columnist Margaret Carlson asked in Bloomberg Views: “Why has the party removed the sentence ‘Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare’ from its platform?” Although usually stridently pro-abortion herself – Carlson supports partial-birth abortion and opposes born-alive protection for survivors of abortion – she condemned the “party’s more militant posture” and begged Democrats to reinsert the word “rare” to the platform.
Despite being solidly pro-abortion in the White House, Bill Clinton had language inserted into the Democratic platform in 1992 (and 1996) saying abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” It captured the aggregate public position on abortion: that it should be allowed, but not used frivolously as birth control. As direction for policy, it was meaningless, but the Democrats have utilized the rhetoric as a post-Jimmy Carter, post-Mario Cuomo version of being personally opposed to abortion but unwilling to restrict it.
The rhetoric appealed to the public but enraged feminists. They lobbied to have the reference to “rare” removed from the platform and in 2008, with Obama’s blessing, the party removed the word from their abortion plank.
Jay Cost explains in his new book, Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted a Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic that Democrats have become a collection of special interest groups that feed at the public trough. Among those special interest groups are pro-abortion feminists. Cost describes how the pro-abortion wing of the party ensured that pro-life language that would have won over Democrats worried about how Obamacare would fund abortion, was ultimately nixed from the law.
Cost says pro-abortion feminists are clients of the Democratic Party, and the party is beholden to the activists. Jonathan V. Last wrote in the Weekly Standard that numerous pro-life Congressmen “were defeated as a result of their Obamacare votes,” and “with pro-life Democrats now nearly extinct as a caucus, the abortion-rights wing of the party was free to talk about abortion the way they really think about it.” In short, within the party, they’ve won and were able to get Andy Grossman, a political consultant with Planned Parenthood, named national platform director for the DNC.
Obamacare’s mandate that private insurance plans pay for contraception (including abortifacient drugs) is only one of a plethora of pro-abortion policies Obama supports. As an Illinois senator, Obama opposed a Born-Alive Infants Protection Act three times. As a candidate for president in 2008, he vowed to sign a Freedom to Choose Act as his first act if elected president (it never passed in Congress). As President, Obama signed executive orders permitting U.S. taxpayer funds for international abortion organizations, fought for more funding for Planned Parenthood, and opposed a ban on sex-selection abortion. Rich Lowry wrote in Politico.com that “President Obama is an extremist on abortion,” noting “he has never supported any meaningful restriction on it.”
No presidential election has seen the prioritization of moral issues to this level since Patrick Buchanan forced them into the political discussion in 1992 (much to the chagrin of President George H.W. Bush).
For their part, the Republicans are remaining focused on the economy. Romney has described issues such as abortion and same-sex “marriage” as distractions. Indeed, Romney has an uneasy relationship with social conservatives, especially evangelicals concerned about his Mormon faith.
The National Right to Life Committee called Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, “a solid pro-life ticket for a pro-life America.” That may be a stretch. As a Congresman, Paul Ryan has a 100 per cent voting record, but Romney’s history is not so clear cut. As Phil Lawler of Catholic Culture wrote, “Romney’s pro-life credentials are shaky.” Indeed, in his own convention address, Romney gave the pro-life cause just nine words in a 38-minute speech: “As president, I will protect the sanctity of life.” It had no specifics and Romney’s other comments and history raise flags.
The Republican platform opposes all abortions, but Romney told CBS “I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother.” That might not help him with those who recall that when he challenged Senator Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts in 1994 and ran for governor in 2002 he vowed to uphold Roe v. Wade. That is not quite the same as saying he supported abortion, but it has the same effect.
As governor, Romney was presumed to be pro-abortion and admits a conversion on the issue when he studied the embryonic stem cell issue. In 2005, he vetoed a bill making the morning-after pill widely available and began to declare himself pro-life. Dr. Jack Willke, founder of the Life Issues Institute, said he believes Romney’s conversion was sincere as it credibly followed from conversations he had with pro-life physician William B. Hurlbut about fetal development and the beginning of life.
While Romney’s record is mixed (but improving), Ryan has always been a dedicated pro-lifer, including co-sponsoring legislation that would outlaw taxpayer-funding of abortion. The NRLC said Ryan, “has a deep, abiding respect for all human life, including unborn children and their mothers,” and has a perfect pro-life voting record since joining the House of Representatives in 1999.
Whatever the particulars of Romney’s current beliefs, the Republican ticket is obviously preferable to four more years of Obama, with his support of expanding abortion, paying for it, and opposing any and every measure that would make abortion a little rarer.
Lowry in his Politico article said, “abortion is at the heart of contemporary liberalism,” and Obama has made it central to his re-election campaign. Polls suggest it will not be an election winner, but if Obama does somehow win on Nov. 6, the media will surely credit his stand on abortion and declare America a “pro-choice” country. But if Romney wins do not expect the media to blame Obama’s defeat on his abortion gambit.