September 30, 2005


Pro-Life Democrats

No, “pro-life Democrat” really isn’t an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. But, in recent years, the national Democratic Party made it pretty clear that the party itself is pro-choice when it comes to abortion. Last year, before John Kerry was nominated, every Democratic candidate for president pledged to preserve the so-called “woman’s right to choose.”

Things have changed since last year’s election, if only because of political realities. Since the Democrats’ defeat last November, the party has tried to soften its pro-abortion rights position, at least with its rhetoric. No national Democratic leader has yet declared himself or herself anti-choice, and former Rep. Tim Roemer of South Bend, Ind., who is pro-life, was defeated by Howard Dean, a supporter of abortion rights, for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

However, both West Virginia and Louisiana elected pro-life Democrats for governor last November. In Penn­­sylvania, Democrats are expected to nominate a pro-life candidate, Robert Casey Jr., to oppose Sen. Rick San­torum, a pro-life leader in the Senate. When Casey’s father, Robert Casey Sr., was the pro-life governor of Penn­syl­vania, the Democratic leaders refused to allow him to speak at the party’s 1996 national convention. So that’s progress.

Many Democrats, especially Catholics whose families had long been Democrats, have long agreed with former Gov. Casey that pro-life supporters should have a home in the Democratic Party because it had historically been the party that championed the rights of the most vulnerable members of society. Almost as many Catholics vote for Democrats as for Republicans, despite the two parties’ stances on abortion, and perhaps feeling guilty about it, because they agree with the Democratic candidates on other issues.

An organization known as Demo­crats for Life of America ( DFLA ) has been around now for six years. It has developed a proposal known as the “95-10 Initiative.” DFLA asserts that, if the provisions of the initiative are enacted by Congress, abortions will be reduced by 95 percent in 10 years. Pro-life Democrats in Congress plan to introduce legislation for this initiative soon.

Although the 95-10 plan is still being refined, it began with 15 provisions to assist pregnant women, as well as mothers of children already born. They include a toll-free crisis counseling line for pregnant women, abortion counseling and child care centers on college campuses, promotion of adoption through a permanent tax credit, a mandate that Medicaid cover pregnant women and newborns through the first year of life, and expansion of the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) ­program.

More controversial provisions, especially for Catholics, include funding for pregnancy-prevention programs in schools and a requirement for insurance coverage of contraceptives, including RU-486, the “morning-after pill.” It’s possible, though, that those provisions will be eliminated. Another pro-life group, Feminists for Life ( FFL ), generally supports DFLA but not the provision regarding contraception coverage.

Both FFL and DFLA have mainly female leadership. DFLA ’s co-founder is Carol Crossed, its president is Janet Robert and its executive director is Kristen Day. FFL ’s president, Serrin Foster, has expressed pleasure that DFLA is joining her older organization to try to discourage abortions.

95-10 does not propose the elimination of abortion and assumes that abortion will always be legal. The initiative is meant to discourage abortions by eliminating some of the problems that pregnant women face in our society. It remains to be seen if the few pro-life Democrats in Congress can garner enough support from more numerous pro-life Republicans to pass the legislation.

Robert, DFLA ’s president, claims that her organization believes in the consistent ethic of life associated with the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin when he was chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities. She said that the Repub­lican Party “apparently does not since it supports unjust wars and the death penalty.”

Meanwhile, the Republican Party appears to be slipping in its pro-life support. The party hasn’t changed its platform, but several national leaders are now identified as pro-choice.

Naturally, we would like to see both political parties have pro-life agendas. Then the debates could be about the most effective ways to eliminate abortion. It might, though, be a while before that happens.

One thing is certain though: The term “pro-life Democrat” might not be an oxymoron, but “pro-choice Catholic” is.

 —John F. Fink


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