Democrats at a Crossroads Over Abortion, Activists Won’t Compromise

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Dec 29, 2004   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Democrats at a Crossroads Over Abortion, Activists Won’t Compromise Email this article
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by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 29, 2004

Washington, DC ( — The Democratic Party is finding itself at a key crossroads on abortion.

Presidential candidate John Kerry lost in part due to his extreme abortion position, some Democrats are calling for the party to moderate its position, a pro-life Democrat is considering a bid for party chairman, and leading abortion advocacy groups refuse to back down.

A post-election poll of voters shows that a majority of Americans are pro-life and the abortion issue gave pro-life candidates such as President Bush a twelve percent advantage.

Sensing a disconnect between the party’s extreme views on abortion and the pro-life views of voters in states he lost, Kerry surprised party activists last month by telling them that Democrats should moderate their abortion stance.

Tim Roemer, a former Indiana Congressman, also sees the divide.

"[O]n the issue of abortion, I fully recognize that our party is overwhelmingly ‘pro-choice,’" Roemer, who is considering a bid for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee, said. "As someone who personally holds a different view, I believe that there must be a place in our party for those who have alternative positions."

The top Democrats in the House and Senate, minority leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, sense a change is needed and are encouraging Roemer to run.

But, leading abortion advocates blast the idea of a pro-life person leading a party that used the abortion issue to attack President Bush’s pro-life record during the election.

"The Democratic Party and its leadership should champion pro-choice values, and uphold the platform’s stated commitment to women’s rights and health," Planned Parenthood’s president Gloria Feldt said regarding Roemer.

Nancy Keenan of NARAL agrees that the party should not compromise.

"I don’t think it’s smart to have the Democrats change their position," Keenan said. "They don’t need to abandon a position on choice America agrees with. I think they need to do a better job defining choice as the mainstream value that it is."

However, Felt may find that other candidates for the party leadership share Kerry and Roemer’s view that the party needs to open itself up to pro-life advocates.

Simon Rosenberg, the president of the New Democratic Network who is mulling a run for the DNC chairmanship, told the Boston Globe newspaper, "All Democrats are united around the idea that we should make abortion safe, legal, and rare," but "we also have to be open to people who are pro-life."

And in an interview NBC’s "Meet the Press" earlier this month, even pro-abortion former presidential candidate Howard Dean paid lip service to pro-life Democrats.

He said the party should "embrace" pro-life Democrats.

"I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats. . . . We can have a respectful dialogue, and we have to stop demagoguing this issue," Dean said.

Kristen Day, director of Democrats for Life of America, says she is encouraged and hopeful that the party will come around to support the 40 percent of grassroots Democrats who say they oppose abortion.

"We’re very encouraged. I think people are starting to wake up and say we can’t alienate this whole wing of our party," she said.

The end result of these developments is anyone’s guess, but leading abortion advocacy groups are not likely to loosen their stranglehold on the party.

Since most delegates to the DNC back abortion it’s doubtful that a pro-life person like Roemer would prevail.

Most of the Democrats at the party convention, which controls the platform, also support abortion. It is not likely that the Democratic Party will modify its pro-abortion platform. In fact, at the 2004 convention, unity language supporting those who oppose abortion was removed.

What is more likely is a change in how the party presents its support for abortion.

Reflecting on his political career, former Congressman and presidential candidate Dick Gephardt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch what many Democrats are saying.

"We’ve been painted into the view, which I don’t think is correct, that we’re pro-abortion and not just pro choice," he said. "There’s a fine line, and maybe we haven’t articulated our views on it as well as we should."

Look for the party to select a pro-abortion leader, keep the pro-abortion platform and run a pro-abortion candidate for president in 2008.

Party leaders will likely will include the tolerance plank or make overtures to pro-life Democrats to give the appearance of being open to those who disagree on abortion.

A change in presentation will only be cosmetic. In essence, the Democratic Party will probably remain pro-abortion.