Changing the approach to abortion in the Democratic Party: Making “safe, legal, and rare” meaningful

by Lois Kerschen

We need to change the language and the focus of the discussion about abortion in the Democratic Party.  This was the consensus at the Democrats for Life Caucus at the Democratic state convention in Texas last summer.

For one thing, the pro-choice advocates in attendance didn’t want to be called “pro-abortion” because they said no one is in favor of abortion, even though that is the “choice” referred to in “pro-choice.” So, when asked if it would be more accurate to describe them as pro-choices, they said that might fit better as long as abortion is one of the choices.

However, the pro-life advocates said that they too are better described as “pro-choices” because they promote more than one option, and the concept of choice means selecting from a variety of options. It isn’t really a choice if there is only one option – that is a case of being forced to accept the default.

The pro-choice people said, though, that since abortion is legal, the pro-life people couldn’t be considered “pro-choices” unless one of the choices is abortion, in addition to raising the child or placing the child for adoption.

So it seems that both sides considered themselves to be “pro-choices.” In that case, if we all agree that a pregnant woman has three options for the future of herself and her child, then why are we arguing?

Perhaps Democrats should forget labels, invite all Democrats to the table, and focus the party’s attention on putting real meaning into making abortion “safe, legal, and rare.”  This phrase is already a mantra of Democrats, but it has been criticized by pro-life people as a mere slogan.  If we were truly committed to making abortion safe, then Democrats wouldn’t oppose state laws that attempt to regulate providers. Yet time after time, it is the Democrats who vote against any type of safety regulations and do so often with vigorous opposition.

Safe means abortion facilities are regularly inspected by the health department and their staff members’ qualifications are verified. The Gosnell case showed what can happen when state inspectors don’t do their jobs because they are too afraid to touch anything associated with a political hot button like abortion, and it is the Democrats who make it a hot button.

The legality of abortion has been established, so the pro-choice advocates should be satisfied. It’s like “Question asked, question answered.” Abortion has been legal for 42 years. You got what you wanted long ago, so move on. There is no need to make abortion such a priority in the party that the 2012 national convention became known as the “abortion convention.” We have other business to attend to, and we need to emphasize the issues that most concern the American voters instead of repelling them with the stench of abortion (Remember? No one is “pro-abortion.”)

Pro-life people know that, legal or not, there will always be some women who seek abortions. The job of pro-life people is to promote a culture in which few women will consider that desperate measure.

Which brings us to rare. If rare is truly a goal of the Democratic Party, then it not only needs to stop making abortion such a priority among its issues, but also it needs to promote the other choices in being “pro-choices.”

Some Democrats might object to this portrayal of the party as having abortion as a top priority when we stand for so many other things as well, but Democrats need to face the reality of the perception that has caused voters to leave the party in droves over abortion. Democrats can’t afford to ignore being called “the party of death” in parts of the South (once solidly Democratic but now solidly Republican, largely because of abortion) or its reputation for lock-step support of abortion extremism in Congress and state legislatures.

Russell Moore, the head of the political advocacy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention was recently quoted in The Atlantic as saying that “There are a lot of evangelicals” who might vote differently if the Democratic Party were not “completely committed to abortion.”

It’s time for the Democratic Party to quiet the storm of abortion that has sent voters scurrying to other tents and become again the party that people trust to listen to their opinions and support them in crisis. The Democratic Party needs to develop a reputation for doing everything it can to prevent abortions by providing the support systems pregnant women need to carry to term. After all, the social, educational, and financial assistance these women need is typical of Democratic programs and consistent with its tradition of helping the poor and disenfranchised.

The programs of the New Deal were a Democratic response to the need people had to support their families in an economic crisis. Would it be any different if the Democrats offered programs in response to the need mothers and fathers have in an unplanned pregnancy that could cause economic hardship?

If the Democratic Party stopped putting abortion to the fore of its issues, stopped using abortion as a litmus test for its candidates, and stopped knee-jerk opposition to common-sense restrictions proposed by state legislatures and supported by the majority of Americans, then it could advertise the party as the party of compassionate concern for pregnant women. It would be the party that puts its money where its mouth is when saying “safe, legal, and rare.”

Let’s all be “pro-choices” in the Democratic party. Let’s get a bigger tent and welcome all who are concerned about the welfare of pregnant women and their children. Democrats shouldn’t talk negatively about a supposed “war on women” but positively about solutions for women in a way that invites everyone to the discussion. If NARAL and Planned Parenthood object, then they are proving that their priority is the business of abortion and not the welfare of women. If the Democratic Party thinks it can’t live without the money it gets form the abortion lobby, then it had better decide to live without the votes it takes to win elections.