Friday, March 03, 2006

The Pro-Life Track Record of the Democrats is Superior

In response to my last post, Sadie Lou commented that she agrees with progressives on most issues other than abortion and war. I don't want to discuss war right now, but I think there are a whole lot of Americans out there who would vote Democratic if not for the abortion issue.

I found an interesting article in Tikkun magazine (published by the Rabbi Michael Lerner of my last post) by a pro-life Democrat that I'd like to share.

The abortion issue is dragging Democrats down in the heartland...

After living for the past fifteen years on the West Coast, what struck me most in returning to my native Midwest during a presidential campaign was how loud and clear I heard the message “don’t vote for a candidate who won’t protect life” in local newspaper editorials, ads, bumper stickers, and friendly conversation. With two weeks to go before the election, pro-life efforts were ramped up even further. I emailed the Kerry campaign about the feeling in the air here, and how I thought Democrats would lose the election if we didn’t modify our message on abortion. Late on election night, Wisconsin, not surprisingly, was still too close to call. It ended up being one of the last states called, but it finally went for Kerry. The pundits labeled it “powder blue.” We had won the battle in Wisconsin, but, polls ultimately revealed, the Democrats had lost the war, not surprisingly, on “moral values.”

The author of the piece, Nina Kohl, had an abortion at 19. She now describes herself as pro-life. Although she admits she "is not in a position to judge anyone," she is passionate about "providing alternatives to abortion and sparing others the suffering it can cause."

The Democrats need a new way of talking about our position on abortion. The Republicans have got us on the defensive on cases like “partial-birth” abortion and we’re so backed into a corner that we end up defending the indefensible. We need to go on the offensive and talk about the fact that the pro-life track record of the Democrats is superior to that of the Republicans. Abortion rates fell during pro-choice President Bill Clinton’s administration by 17.4 percent. Abortion rates have risen under “pro-life” president George W. Bush by 14.6 percent.

How could a President who protects a woman’s reproductive rights lower the abortion rate? By protecting her from poverty, inadequate healthcare coverage, jobs without flexible schedules, lack of affordable daycare, limited access to contraception and sex education, and fathers who don’t take financial and emotional responsibility for their children. Perhaps the Republicans have latched on to making abortion illegal because addressing the issues that drive demand for the procedure is so outside the realm of the Republican agenda. But addressing these issues is solidly inside the realm of our Democratic agenda. In essence, it is the Democratic agenda.

She argues, quite convincingly, that Democrats do a much better job at reducing abortions than do Republicans:

Instead of the full range of highly effective strategies the Democrats can offer for reducing abortions, Republicans pretty much have one strategy of questionable effectiveness: make it illegal. The only other strategy they have proposed is one with no effectiveness at all: a program that recommends people not have sex outside of marriage. You can snicker at how comically unrealistic that is, but I applaud their idealism. I honestly do. Because the truth is, the very best antidote to abortion isn’t contraception, it’s responsibility. If we didn’t have sex outside the context of emotionally committed, stable relationships, abortion wouldn’t be an issue.

The problem with the idealism of the Republican plan is that they have no plan B. Their theory is that if you have high expectations, and provide no fallback, people will rise to the occasion. How effective has that strategy proven? A review of ten state evaluations has shown that federally funded abstinence-only programs have little impact. Sex education programs promoting abstinence-only until marriage, which teach teens only to “say no,” produced no long-term success in reducing sexual risk-taking behaviors or delaying sexual initiation. An independent analysis of recent federal data also showed little reduction in sexual risk-taking behavior among teens nationwide since the federal abstinence-only initiative began.

Belgium, a country where abortion is legal, has achieved the lowest abortion rate in the world, with sex education that recommends abstinence but stresses responsibility and teaches teens how to use contraception. Unlike the Republicans, Belgians have a plan B...

Under President Bush, "the decade-long trend of declining abortion rates appears to have reversed," according to Glenn Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary who is trained in statistical analysis...

Stassen says that rising unemployment and soaring healthcare costs are directly connected to the abortion rate. He notes that, "Economic policy and abortion are not separate issues. They form one moral imperative."

Stassen used data from the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the Guttmacher Institute, and reporting from individual states to determine that abortion rates in the U.S. had declined in the 1990s to a twenty-four-year low at the point that Bush took office. Many anticipated that, under a conservative president, the trend downward would continue, but just the opposite happened: 52,000 more abortions occurred in 2002 than the pre-2000 conditions would have predicted, and the abortion rate among those states reporting multi-year abortion statistics rose significantly.

What Stassen’s study showed is that there is a direct connection between economic hardship and abortion. Of women who abort, two-thirds say they can’t afford a child. Half say they don’t have a responsible mate and co-earner. And, among the 5.2 million Americans without health coverage since 2000, women of child-bearing age are overrepresented.

So Democrats are better than Republicans at reducing the number of abortions, but Republicans have are winning the rhetorical war with big but ultimately empty promises. How can Democrats convince pro-life voters?

The Democrats need to make a place for pro-lifers within the party...

The Republicans’ pro-life message is simple; it’s about making abortion illegal. The Democrats’ could send a more powerful pro-life message: We are working for a world where abortion is a rarity because women have the practical resources and support they need to prevent most unintended pregnancies and to carry to term those that do occur. Our broader pro-life agenda includes working for peace, economic justice, and environmental protection. On social issues we stand against the death penalty and for gun control. The Democratic Party is not only more effectively pro-life; it is more consistently pro-life than the Republican Party.


Adam said...

Interesting article, and some good points. Thanks for bringing it up.

Sadie Lou said...

All that being said and noted (thanks for the heads up on my blog) why is it that democrats can't seem to make a pro-life stand when puch comes to shove? In plain english, I would have voted for Kerry had he not been so wishy washy about the subject.
Q: If the voter asked for reassurance that his or her tax dollars would not go to support abortion, what would you say to that person?
A: I cannot tell you how deeply I respect the belief about life and when it begins. I'm a Catholic. Raised a Catholic I was an altar boy. Religion has been a huge part of my life. Helped lead me through a war. Leads me today. I can't take what is an article of faith for me and legislate it for someone who doesn't share that article of faith. But I can counsel people. I can talk reasonably about life and about responsibility. But as a president, I have to represent all the people in the nation and I have to make that judgment. You can take that position and not be pro-abortion, but you have to afford people their constitutional rights. And that means being smart about allowing people to be fully educated, to know what their options are in life, and making certain that you don't deny a poor person the right to be able to have whatever the Constitution affords them

How does that answer the question?
I like that he said it is between God and the woman whatever she chooses to do. That's my stance too but Kerry wouldn't commit to any sound stance. He flip-flopped all the time depending on who he was talking to.
He voted no on banning partial birth abortions
He voted no on criminal penalty for harming an unborn fetus during a crime and later, voted no on the Laci Peterson act.
I can't support someone that says it's wrong in his opinion then goes out of his way to be pro-choice.
He could have voted yes on the Peterson Act at least...

Jewish Atheist said...

Sadie Lou:

She wrote about that exact complaint, but I didn't quote it. She basically agrees with you, and thinks Democrats have to do better. She argued that Clinton did better than Kerry or Gore, but she didn't completely agree with him, either.

In the years since Clinton’s presidency, Democrats have stopped emphasizing making abortion rare in their campaign messages. Both Gore and Kerry lost elections with, “I’m personally opposed to abortion, but won’t impose my beliefs on others.” It’s easy to see why that was a losing message. It made these candidates look like they had no backbone. If they believed abortion was wrong, why weren’t they doing something about it? Clinton had an answer to that question—he was actively, passionately, and successfully working toward making abortion in America rare. Which made him look like a leader with conviction and vision.

Since Clinton, the logic behind Democratic presidential campaigns seems to have been that we can’t talk about making abortion rare because that might make it sound like abortion is a bad thing. But, in an age of ultrasound, when expecting parents proudly display their sonograms on their fireplace mantels in frames marked “Baby’s First Picture,” I’m afraid the cat’s out of the bag. Americans already know that abortion is ugly, so we have nothing to lose and many votes to gain by admitting this and moving on to what the Democrats are doing about it—working to make abortion rare by employing strategies with proven effectiveness.

Sadie Lou said...

Bush would have lost the last election by a landslide if the democrats had a Clinton-clone out there.
Americans already know that abortion is ugly, so we have nothing to lose and many votes to gain by admitting this and moving on to what the Democrats are doing about it—working to make abortion rare by employing strategies with proven effectiveness.

I like that stance, A LOT. I think the democratic party would be way more effective making abortions a rarity just because republicans are weighed down by the whole religious angle.
I would totally vote for a pro-life democrat/progressive.

Jewish Atheist said...

What about a pro-choice democrat/progressive who nonetheless reduced abortions?

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Re your previous post —

I find it appalling and incomprehensible that Christianity in the USA is married to the political right.

The redistribution of wealth from those who have more than enough to those who have too little is a core value of Judaism, and it was a core part of Jesus' message. Take Matthew 19:21 for a starting point: "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven." In Luke's version, the saying is not directed to a specific inquirer but to all Christians.

With respect to war, there is no doubt that Jesus was a pacifist. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God" (Matt. 5:9). "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. … I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:38-45).

Granted, "Do not resist the one who is evil" is a tough doctrine to follow in the real world! Be that as it may, there's no doubt where Jesus stood. The Mennonites, whose religion is founded squarely on the sermon on the mount, have got this right. (This is relevant to gun control, too, though there were no guns in Jesus' day.)

Turning now to this post —

Abortion is a tougher call, but I agree with your analysis. I once took a course in criminal law. The professor said, "Governments try to use criminal law to address far too many social problems. It's the easy political solution but, in most cases, it's a totally unsuitable instrument for what they're trying to achieve." He wasn't talking about abortion, but that's where my mind went.

Evangelicals erroneously believe that abortion is reducible to an individual woman making an immoral choice. Therefore the solution to abortion is to make it illegal.

This is partly right, but mostly wrong. Abortion is a social problem, and the only way to reduce it is to mobilize society to keep women from reaching a point of desperation. Yes, some women will choose abortion even though their circumstances are not desperate. But very many abortions would not happen if women had any practicable alternatives.

I used to be on the board of a interdenominational Christian maternity residence. They took in pregnant young women who had no social support, looked after them during the pregnancy, made sure they got the necessary medical care, taught them basic social skills, were present with them during the birth, and supported them during the first few months of difficult adjustments after the birth.

More evangelicals should take that sort of constructive approach. As the old saying goes, "It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness."

Stephen (aka Q) said...

Oops, that should read, "taught them basic parenting skills — including things as basic as how to cook a simple meal.

David said...

If our standing army was composed ONLY of women, and the entire female US population over 18 were drafted to serve in Iraq, we could solve this abortion issue quickly. (And win the war!) Here's to pro-life!

Sadie Lou said...

Nice comment Q, well said.