(A mix-up at CNA meant this story wasn't entered for timely publication, so I am publishing it here)
Self-professed pro-life Democratic legislators, candidates, and other speakers addressed a Democrats for Life town hall meeting in a Denver hotel last Wednesday during the Democratic National Convention (DNC). During the meeting academics and policy experts stressed the need to find “common ground” with pro-choice Democrats and advocated programs they believed would “dramatically” reduce the abortion rate.
One speaker even argued that abortion reduction programs would help people “think like Democrats.”
Kristin Day, President of Democrats for Life, introduced the town hall.
“The debate regarding the legality of abortion has gone on for far too long,” she told the audience of more than sixty guests and journalists.
“But we all agree that we can do more to decrease the abortion rate by preventing unintended pregnancies, but also by providing support for pregnant women.”
Speakers included Alexia Kelley, co-founder of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Vince Miller, a professor of theology at Georgetown University; and Tony Campolo, professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University.
They were joined by several politicians and other speakers, including Sen. Bob Casey, Jr.
Kelley began the town hall meeting by summarizing the findings of a national abortion study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good to address a “dearth of data” on how economic and social support affect the abortion rate.
According to Kelley, the study found that women under the poverty level are four times as likely to seek an abortion as women living at three hundred percent of the poverty level. Three fourths of women who seek abortions cite childcare, job or school as a factor for pursuing an abortion.
The study argues that “better-targeted policy” would help reduce the abortion rate. “Robust nutrition support” for women and children correlated with a 37 percent lower abortion rate, while states with higher male employment had a 29 percent lower abortion rate. Family caps on economic assistance increased the abortion rate, as did Medicaid funding for abortions.
Parental consent laws and partial birth abortion bans were not found to have a significant effect on the abortion rate during the study's time period.
Based on 2003 data, the study projects that removing caps on income assistance and removing Medicaid funding for abortions could lead to 300,000 fewer abortions per year.
Vince Miller discussed both practical and theological concerns, claiming that abortion reduction is not simply voter outreach. It is additionally a set of political proposals that gets voters to “think like Democrats” by emphasizing how constructive governmental policy can help people in their daily lives.
Turning to Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Miller charged Republicans with applying “significant editing” to the document to support their political views.
He said that, though the encyclical laments in conservative fashion the “cultural crisis of relativism,” it also criticizes a “social context of profound individualism” in which, in John Paul II’s words, “individuals, couples and families are often left alone with their problems.”
“There are situations of acute poverty, anxiety or frustration in which the struggle to make ends meet, the presence of unbearable pain, or instances of violence, especially against women, make the choice to defend and promote life so demanding as sometimes to reach the point of heroism,” the Pope continued, going on to encourage the advancement of “effective family and social policy.”
Including comprehensive abortion reduction policies in the Democratic platform, Miller said, was a “monumental achievement,” though he conceded that their language is the “language of the negotiation table” and requires “positive policy proposals.”
He charged Republicans with eroding “the notion that government can do anything,” saying they have “carved out one area of government activity, the so-called ‘values issues’ of abortion and same-sex marriage.” However, the delay of the Republicans’ victory on those issues has seen “values voting reduced to expressions of identity.”
Alluding to Democratic efforts to present themselves as equally religious to Republicans, Miller said abortion reduction proposals are not an opportunity for Democrats to say “we have values too,” but rather the proposed programs enable voters to think through the “difficult question” of connecting their moral concerns to “concrete policy.”
Tony Campolo, who served on the platform committee, said platform struggles in the weeks leading up to the convention were “intense” because, in his view, “I don’t think we’ve done a very good job educating people that we don’t have to be enemies, that we can work together.”
“It’s fine to finance Planned Parenthood on the one side, but shouldn’t there be government funding for counseling centers that want to in fact help women, and counsel women, who want to bring their pregnancies to term?
“Shouldn’t there be financing on both sides if we’re going to have ‘parallel of choice’?”
Campolo said that “parallel of choice” is going to be a phrase increasingly used to argue for balance between policies presuming abortion is a valid choice and policies that encourage women to carry their child to term.
Arguing that his inclusion on the party platform was a deliberate indication of the diversity of viewpoints, Campolo exclaimed: “We are not a monolithic party, we have various points of view, and we want to be a party in which those various views are articulated.”
Campolo said he was chosen for the party platform committee by Howard Dean because Dean thought the pro-life point of view needed representation.
“He chose me because I screamed at him, literally, on one occasion, about this matter. And he said to me ‘You need to be on the platform committee, because the party needs to have this value system incorporated into the platform.’ And that’s how I got on the committee,” Campolo explained.
Campolo cited statistics claiming that 43 percent of Americans are pro-life, but 51 percent are pro-choice.
“The churches, the synagogues, and the mosques of America have not been able to convince their own constituencies on this issue.”
The Republican Party, Campolo alleged, in fact believes most Americans are pro-choice and while it professes pro-life stands, its members will not overturn Roe v. Wade if most Americans are actually pro-choice.
By relying too much on legislation and political action, he said, pro-lifers are “asking politicians to do what churches have failed to do.”
Summarizing a conversation with Bill Clinton, he said: “If we have a pro-life president, America moves to the left. If we have a pro-choice president, America moves to the right.”
“So I’m thinking,” Campolo added, “if we have a pro-choice president, we’ll be moving in the right direction.”