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.