The group Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) has launched a petition drive calling on the Democratic Party to introduce “big tent” language into its platform on the issue of abortion. This is an important, and commendable, effort and I encourage everyone to sign the petition. I wrote about DFLA in a column in the print edition of NCR that you can read by clicking here .
Here is the text of the proposed language: We respect the conscience of each American and recognize that members of our Party have deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, like abortion and the death penalty. We recognize the diversity of views as a source of strength and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who may hold differing positions on these and other issues.
However, we can find common ground. We believe that we can reduce the number of abortions because we are united in our support for policies that assist families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies. We believe that women deserve to have a breadth of options available as they face pregnancy: including, among others, support and resources needed to handle the challenges of pregnancy, adoption, and parenthood; access to education, healthcare, childcare; and appropriate child support. We envision a new day without financial or societal barriers to bringing a planned or unplanned pregnancy to term.Recently, former President Jimmy Carter signed a public letter drafted by DFLA urging the inclusion of this language. In an interview explaining his support for the initiative, Carter said:I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions and that was one of the problems I had when I was president--having to uphold Roe v. Wade--and I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I made it easy to adopt children, for instance, who were unwanted, and also initiated the program called Women and Infant Children or WIC program that's still in existence now. But except for the times when a mother's life is in danger or when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest I would certainly not [and] never have approved of any abortions.I've signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion, which is to minimize the need for abortion and limit it only to women whose lives are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue.For some, these sentiments do not go nearly far enough, and already some conservatives have accused Carter if operating simply from political calculi. (Shocked to think that someone who made his career in politics would be thinking in political terms!) But, the fact remains that before a person can run, they must learn to walk and before they can learn to walk, they must learn to crawl. It is regrettable in the extreme that on this fundamental issue of human rights, Democrats can barely muster a crawl. The history of the 1970s, when a host of mostly Democratic pro-life politicians flipped sides, is baffling. Ted Kennedy, Al Gore, Ed Muskie, Dick Gephardt, all were pro-life at the beginning of the decade and all came to support abortion rights subsequently, a notable exception being the Governor of Connecticut, and the first woman elected governor of a state without succeeding her husband, Ella Grasso. Liberals were then, and are still, susceptible to a narrative that sees the world increasingly expanding the range of rights, and approves the expansion, and pro-choice groups in the 1970s succeeded in getting their position fitted into that narrative even thought the historical vocation of the Democratic Party was, and is, to care for the “un’s,” the unemployed, the undocumented, and the unborn.
In the present political atmosphere, it is difficult to see the Democratic Party adopting such a shift. Women’s groups on the left are in high dudgeon over a range of issues from the HHS mandates, to the ultra sound laws passed in Virginia, to the attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. Look at what happened to the Komen Foundation when it announced it would not longer be awarding grants to Planned Parenthood! But, cooler heads among the political leaders of the party have only to look at some of the names associated with DFLA. Bart Stupak and Kathy Dahlkemper have joined their Board and helped spearhead this petition. Both are former members of Congress who seats are now help by Republicans. Those seats – MI-1 and PA-3 – will continue to be held by Republicans until Democrats can field more socially conservative candidates in those districts and the national party seems less like an appendage of NARAL.
Even those who are not especially disturbed by our nation’s abortion laws should consider signing this pledge. Why? Because our nation’s political system is in danger of becoming so polarized, it will be unable to meet the large but far from unsolvable problems the nation faces on a host of issues. As I have said before, pro-life Democrats and pro-immigration reform Republicans are worth their weight in gold, not only because their positions will hew closer to the social teachings of the Catholic Church, but because those willing to stand up to the ideological orthodoxies of their own parties are the ones who can persuade others. As well, such opposition to partisan orthodoxy indicates immediately to one and all that the politician’s concern on such issues is transcendent, that there are things more important than winning the next election, that there are some issues, and the protection of human life and human dignity is one of them, that transcend all political categories. That is a tough sell in Washington these days, I know, but the only way to attack political polarization is to take a step back and try to find common ground.
So, hats off to the good people at DFLA. They are not only seeking to defend the unborn they are taking the kind of action needed to make our very democracy more healthy. I confess that at times I look to the future of the Democratic Party with some measure of despair because of their knee-jerk commitment to abortion rights arguments. But, the DFLA petition drive is a sign of hope. I encourage everyone to examine their conscience and consider signing it which you can do by clicking here .