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DEMS-PLATFORM Aug-15-2008 (1,110 words) Backgrounder and analysis. xxxn

Democrats' platform wording on abortion wins both praise, criticism

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- A draft of the Democratic Party platform section on abortion that adds language about supporting alternatives such as adoption and reducing the number of unintended pregnancies was hailed as an important improvement by some and derided by others as "adding a good thing to an evil position."

In an Aug. 12 teleconference hosted by the evangelical organization Sojourners, Catholic and Protestant religious leaders called the changes to the platform "a real step forward" and "an excellent example of the possible" that moves the party toward a position they said abortion opponents can support.

They also said they still object to the party's unequivocal endorsement for legal abortion and the platform section's suggestion that anyone would ever "need" an abortion.

But the platform committee's consultation with abortion opponents and the effort to represent at least some of their views was described as "a historic and courageous step," by the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Fla., and former president of the Christian Coalition.

Others who did not participate in the teleconference or the drafting process, however, disagreed. They said while they appreciate the additions dealing with support for pregnant women and parents, the rewording actually made the section worse, because it eliminated phrasing from the 2004 version of the platform that said abortion should be "rare."

The section was changed after consultation by the platform committee with religious leaders who oppose abortion, said participants in the teleconference.

The draft wording for 2008 reads:

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

"The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre(natal) and postnatal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs."

The abortion-related section of the 2004 platform read as follows:

"Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare."

The Republican Party expects to release information about this year's platform after its platform committee meets Aug. 26.

One of the participants in the teleconference about the Democratic platform was Pepperdine University law professor Douglas Kmiec, a longtime Republican and former Reagan administration attorney who once wrote the government's legal briefs seeking the reversal of Roe v. Wade.

Kmiec, a Catholic and former dean of the law school at The Catholic University of America in Washington, wrote in an online column in March that he was backing Sen. Barack Obama for president despite the Illinois Democrat's support for legal abortion.

He wrote that he believes Obama is open to accommodating opposing views and "that he wants to move the nation beyond its religious and racial divides and that he wants to return the United States to that company of nations committed to human rights."

In the teleconference, Kmiec said abortion opponents like himself have "been trying to find the elusive fifth vote on the Supreme Court (to overturn Roe) for over 30 years."

"We have not found it and even if we did find it, overturning Roe will not save a single life but instead merely return the question to the states," he said.

He said that while the platform "still falls short of the Catholic ideal ... we live in this world and we pursue the art of the possible." Kmiec said the draft of the platform reflects that there are more ways to discourage abortion than focusing solely on making it illegal.

But Deirdre McQuade, assistant director of policy and communications for the U.S. bishops' pro-life activities office, said adding good language about supporting alternatives to abortion and aiding families doesn't make up for the first part of the draft plank on abortion.

"Adding a good thing to an evil position doesn't make it less evil," she told Catholic News Service Aug. 14.

"If the Democratic Party really wants to court Catholic and other pro-life voters, it needs to speak out unequivocally on behalf of life, both born and unborn," said McQuade.

A change "away from the party's persistent, unapologetic support for the evil of abortion" would in fact be in line with "the Democratic Party's noblest principles," she said. "The party that stands in solidarity with the vulnerable, the voiceless and the oppressed should therefore seek to protect the unborn."

Serrin Foster, president of Feminists for Life of America, said she finds it encouraging to hear organizations such as the Democratic Party talk about meeting the needs of women to help them avoid feeling abortion is an appropriate choice. But she said addressing issues beyond health care and education -- as cited by the Democrats' draft -- must be a part of the solution.

Support for pregnant women should involve the federal and state governments, education systems, private organizations, friends, families, employers, insurance companies and especially the fathers of the children, Foster told CNS Aug. 14 in a phone interview.

Like several participants in the teleconference, she questioned the word "need" in the draft's phrase "reduce the need for abortions."

"It's important to recognize that there is no 'need' for abortion," Foster said.

The Rev. Tony Campolo, a Baptist minister and professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, is a member of the Democratic Party's platform committee. He said during the teleconference that organizations including Democrats for Life of America are pushing for changes in the section, including the word "need," before it is brought to a vote during the party's convention Aug. 25-28.

Also in the teleconference, Lisa Sowle Cahill, a theology professor at Jesuit-run Boston College, noted that Pope John Paul II wrote that whatever the local abortion laws might be " there's still an obligation to work in all kinds of ways to protect the unborn."

She echoed Kmiec, saying that by supporting imperfect changes to the platform, "we're using the art of the possible."


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