Monday, February 25, 2008

Moderation on Abortion Position Key To Reaching Evangelical Dems

Amy Sullivan says in the Washington Post that the Democrat's willingness to work with conservatives on reducing abortions - while still remaining pro-choice - is one key that has encouraged evangelical and Catholic Democrats to move back into the fold this election season:

Full-throated support of abortion rights has been sacrosanct to the Democrats for most of the 35 years since Roe v. Wade. In the 2004 campaign, all the Democratic primary candidates pledged their opposition to a ban on so-called partial-birth abortion at the annual NARAL Pro-Choice America dinner, a position then favored by only 20 percent of Americans. ("Keep your rosaries off my ovaries," went the liberal slogan.) That November, Bush won a third of the pro-abortion rights vote, while Kerry picked up only 24 percent of antiabortion voters.

That was it for Catholic Democrats. It was bad enough that they felt pressured to vote for abortion legislation that made them uncomfortable, then had to endure threats from angry church leaders. But if the result was a Democratic Party so marginalized that its inability to appeal to antiabortion voters cost one of their own the White House, what was the point?

So they set out to defuse the abortion issue themselves. In the fall of 2006, two Catholic Democrats in the House of Representatives, the antiabortion Tim Ryan and the pro-abortion rights Rosa DeLauro, introduced legislation to reduce abortion rates by preventing unwanted pregnancies and providing support to pregnant women and new parents. That same fall, an antiabortion Catholic Democrat, Bill Ritter, won the Colorado governorship after convincing his party's activists and donors that a pro-life politician need not be actively anti-choice. In a few states, pro-choice Democratic candidates sat down with evangelical and Catholic leaders to talk about abortion. They didn't back down from defending women's right to choose, but they won with support levels from Catholics and evangelicals that were 10 to 15 points above the party's national average in the midterm elections.

Marginalizing and locking out anti-abortion Dems was always a really dumb move. First of all, a progressive party should have nothing to fear from a diversity of positions on issues. Secondly, it is possible to be fully supportive of a women's right to have an abortion and agree that we ought to be providing a full range of health, legal, and financial services for women with the goal being to bring down the rate of abortions. Bill Clinton's line that abortions should be "safe, legal, and rare" is still the right approach. All sorts of Democrats ought to be able to support candidates and policies that embrace this goal.

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