The Trouble with the Agenda of the Democratic Party

by Diane R. Pagen

Democrats For Life of America has invited me to explain how I came to know of Democrats for Life and why I will go to the conference in Denver in 2018. I don’t write to evoke sadness, but to motivate you to act. I want you to attend the Democrats for Life conference in Denver. This is really a matter of life and death; despite the importance of creating a more compassionate and just system, Americans all over are losing their will to fight, for one, and I think coming together with people who are still willing to talk is vital now. Despair isn’t going to get us anywhere. While we despair, the Democratic Party is teaching young people that the death penalty is always wrong but that abortion is always right. Single parents are told that someone will fight for them to have “better paying jobs” while we know that in the current economy, wages that sustain life are less and less possible. No matter your religion, political party, or background, there is no way to justify the termination of a million pregnancies a year in the modern United States. The Democratic Party justifies abortion while it actively ignores the poverty that leads to many abortions. The Party no longer shapes its agenda through logic, humanity and justice.

The Democratic Party Platform is an agenda of economic exploitation of the poor, regression in matters of children’s rights and racial discrimination. If they read this, they will claim I am a radical, a wacko; they will act offended by my comments and restate that they are the Party that cares about children, especially poor children and children of color. Don’t believe it. I have been an Independent, a Democrat, and a Republican all, trying to find the party that best represents my views. My only non-negotiables in choosing a Party, whether it be a party with a little “p” or a big “p” is that nobody gets hurt. I officially changed my party to Republican last year, when I was horrified that the DNC was aiding one candidate, Clinton, over Sanders. At the time, it had not been proven, but there were a lot of clues. Now it has been confirmed, and my disgust with the elite Democrats has been cemented, aided by the fact that neither Ms. Wasserman Schultz, nor Ms. Clinton, nor Ms. Brazile have atoned. In fact, Ms. Brazile opted for saving her own skin, and throwing Wasserman Shultz and Secretary Clinton under the bus. The only reason I am changing my party back to the Democratic Party is because of Democrats for Life.

The status quo Democratic agenda is in need of reform. The Party needs to practice the inclusion and diversity that they talk about. Diversity and inclusion are not just about including a diversity of ethnicity or abilities. It means making room for additional points of view. Political parties are not meant to be wed to a fixed agenda. One-third of Democrats are pro-life today. If nothing more it shows that a significant number of Democrats are troubled about the mounting number of lives lost via abortion; but for me, it also shows that many Democrats are unhappy, if not to say, disgusted, with the lack of commitment in the Democratic Party’s official agenda to increased protection and support of American children. Resources poured into maintaining access to abortion have been abundant, while resources poured into rebuilding income support and other social assistance for parents has been nil. This is easily proven by looking at the official Democratic agenda, and the past forty-five years of erosion of income support to children and parents.

I am a social worker and have been for 14 years, in schools, in hospitals, in child protection, in a women’s think tank, and in a shelter. At the beginning, I thought I worked in a country that had policies and programs to support my work. Over time, I’ve realized the U.S. has no true aid program for poor children and families as it did when the Social Security Act became law, and the right to aid was at least on paper. We also no longer have an agency in existence that looks out for the well being of children and families.

To this point, the United States used to have a U.S. Children’s Bureau that did admirable work examining the dangers to children and mothers, and used this research to come up with proposals for legislation, as well as to examine the effects of current policies to make sure they did not hurt anyone, especially children. From 1912 until the early 1950s, the Children’s Bureau, under mostly Democratic administrations, improved maternal health and reduced child mortality. It included in the scope of its work reducing poverty as a way to improve child survival. The Children’s Bureau amassed data to prove that mother’s pensions helped children survive, aided the creation of laws against child labor, funded nursing visits to destitute areas of the nation, and generally insisted on supporting the care of children in their own homes. We even had a White House Conference on Children and Youth in 1950. Social pediatrics gained respect, and pediatricians fanned out into high poverty areas to interview families and report to Congress on unmet needs. The doctors retold the stories of mothers who were starving and unable to produce enough breastmilk, for example. Cash transfers and Food Stamps were expanded as a result.

During these decades, the infant mortality rate in the United States was cut in half, a remarkable accomplishment.

After that, however, the role of the U.S. Children’s Bureau was narrowed to research on child abuse and foster care. In 1969, it moved even further away from protecting children from poverty. It focused instead on increasing the number of foster families, helping to find permanent families for children waiting for adoption, and preventing child abuse and neglect. Prior to legal abortion, adoption was the solution that elites pressured poor women to accept. In 1968, my mother’s own friendly OBGYN often reportedly said, “why do you want to keep this baby? I have plenty of wealthy couples who can give her what you can’t…” I admire the marvelous book, The Girls Who Went Away by Ann Fessler. It tells the stories of hundreds of women who were scarred from giving up their babies in the years before Roe V. Wade, and experienced depression, abused alcohol, and other crises as a result. When abortion became the law, the elites had their new solution for poor women having babies.  No Democratic women took, and none take now, any time to consider if giving up a baby to abortion would cause the same trauma for mothers that giving up a baby to adoption often did.

Democrats have gone from being champions of children’s and women’s survival and health to pushing abortion on poor women as their way to end poverty. Coincidentally, there has been no significant wins for adequate income support for children and families since the federal emphasis shifted to adoption, and even less since Roe Vs. Wade. It is evident enough that when there is no mandate to examine policies for their effects on children or any other vulnerable group, many policies are likely to be enacted without regard for the harm they do children, especially when the national ideology is that the best intervention for ending child poverty is to end the possibility of a poor child being born.

The Democratic Party platform language gives priority to its loyalty to the “middle class.” It promises to “Restore economic opportunity for the middle class,” leaving low-income families and children out. When abortion exists where other social protections don’t, you can be sure that ordinary women and men are not being asked their opinions.

Planned Parenthood, one of the primary designers of the Democratic Party’s agenda, accuses Republicans of being “obsessed” with getting rid of legal abortion. It is certainly worth debating. But it is equally true that the Democratic Party is so obsessed with preserving abortion that they won’t look away for one moment to see that women and children are in need of many things, for example, income support that is adequate and delivered without insult and judgment.

There is no excuse in the 21st century for having a welfare system as broken and punitive as ours, where cash assistance is pegged at less than half the poverty line in most states—like in Louisiana, where a family of any size gets $208 a month. And where pregnant women on welfare are “encouraged” to visit “family planning” clinics. It doesn’t take a genius to see that if you are pregnant, the only “family planning” option left is an abortion. The Democratic Party supports this policy. In fact, a Democrat created it.

There is no excuse for terminating far more black pregnancies than white pregnancies. The party platform says, “Democrats will always fight to end discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” But the party is noisily silent on how abortion is disproportionately practiced on one race. Black women account for roughly 38% of all abortions in the country though they comprise 13% of the population. Black pastors said as much in an open letter to Mrs. Clinton last year. “Both nationally and in New York City, the abortion rates among black women are much higher than among any other demographic group,” they wrote. They ended with the question, “don’t black lives matter?” There has been no response.

The party platform says, “we will abolish the death penalty.” The party does not explain the logic of being opposed to the death penalty on the grounds the death penalty is imposed far more often on people of color while being okay with abortion, which is performed far more often on people of color.

The party platform says, “We are committed to creating a society where children are safe and can thrive physically, emotionally, educationally, and spiritually. We recognize and support the importance of civil structures that are essential to creating this for every child.” Yet the Democratic party has taken no action against states who take tens of millions of dollars a year from their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families anti-poverty funds instead of using the money to help their poorest children. Together the states divert two million a year to plug state budget gaps and pay for programs they are supposed to pay for with state money. It takes no stance against states that cut families from assistance at a rate of thousands of families per year. These practices are not condemned anywhere in the Democratic Party platform.

The party platform says, “We will address the discrimination and barriers that inhibit meaningful access to reproductive health care services, including those based on gender, sexuality, race, income, disability, and other factors.”  Isn’t access to keeping a pregnancy a “reproductive health care service” all women should have equal access to? If so, why doesn’t the Democratic Party make room for conversations with pro-life Democrats and others about how to remove barriers to keeping one’s pregnancy?

The party platform says, “… we strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child, including by ensuring a safe and healthy pregnancy and childbirth, and by providing services during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including adoption and social support services, as well as protections for women against pregnancy discrimination.” If this is true, why does the Democratic Party support the punitive sections of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families created by “Welfare Reform?” These force women with babies as young as 12 weeks old to return to work. Resulting in low-income babies to be forcibly weaned way before one year old. What is safe and healthy about that?

The Democratic Party aligns itself with the idea—coincidentally also promoted by Planned Parenthood—that people should not become parents until they have the means to support them. Both organizations continue to embrace this idea despite accepting that traditional jobs are being lost to technological advances faster than decent paid employment can be created. This is, in essence, saying that only the rich should be allowed to reproduce—a pretty problematic policy to embrace. This is classism, racism, and eugenics all rolled into one.

On the day after Thanksgiving, I was in Grand Central Terminal in New York City. On the way to my train, I saw two boys sitting in one of the hallways, each trying to sell cookies from boxes to the passing throngs of people. Say what you wish about the failures throughout our history, and they are numerous; the children’s advocates of the early 20th century, the U.S. Children’s Bureau of that time, and the welfare programs of that time outright condemned child labor and provided cash assistance. The boys I saw last night (nor their parents) are not on the Democratic Party agenda. The return of child labor should alarm everyone.

I believe that history will conclude that abortion, absent a rational and adequate income support policy in the 21st century United States, was as reprehensible as the forced sterilizations of poor and immigrant women in the early 20th century. It was as classist and racist as taking poor children from their parents in 1860’s cities, declaring them “orphans” and sending them on trains to be raised out West, never to see their parents again. It was as immoral as forcing college students to hide their pregnancies in the 1950s and 60s then giving up the babies to adoption, and never speak of it again. It was as racist as President Reagan’s lie that poor and black women on welfare were riding around in Cadillacs while their children went without. I say “was” because if enough of us organize next year, we can get one the way towards an adequate, humane and rational political agenda for people. A million abortions a year will be remembered as an epic tragedy of American history, imposed during a time when elites dictated the policy agenda.

If any of this speaks to you, you need to go to Denver in 2018.