Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Abortion, Democrats and Change Over Time

After watching the first night of the Democratic National Convention I was struck by just how much time was devoted to reproductive rights and the pro-choice agenda.  It did not surprise me that the Democrats came to Charlotte prepared to defend a pro-choice position, but I was surprised at just how pro-active they were about it. Speakers included the president of NARAL and the head of Planned Parenthood.  Two pro-choice videos were shown.

As Ashley McGuire recently wrote in The National Review, "The message is clear: Democrats think the way to a woman's heart, and her vote, is through doing away with the rights of the unborn."  In fact, the Democratic committee has made it clear that it will not welcome "differing positions" on the issue  of abortion.

As a historian, I am always struck by the way the Democratic Party has, over the last thirty years or so, changed its position on life issues.  In the 1960s and early 1970s the Democrats were more pro-life than the Republican Party.  For example, New England Planned Parenthood once supported Republican candidates in state elections. Pro-choice advocates found Ted Kennedy's traditional views on abortion to be "thoroughly revolting."  The Democratic Party built its 20th-century coalition around the defense of the laboring classes, the traditional family, and the reproductive values of ethnic American Catholics.

As David Swartz argues in his forthcoming book, Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, all of this changed in the mid-1970s.  Many on the Left, for example, opposed  Jimmy Carter's pro-life views.  Carter called abortion "wrong" and made it clear that his personal convictions were at odds with the Roe v Wade decision.  By 1980 Democrats had officially endorsed a pro-choice position.  Ted Kennedy reversed his views on abortion and other pro-life Democrats such as John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Mario Cuomo, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson, Paul Simon and Al Gore did the same.

It seems to me that this historical change puts the Democratic Party in a very awkward moral position today--one that it seems unwilling to address. According to a recent Gallup Poll, about one-third of Democrats identify themselves as pro-life.  The leadership of a party that has historically been committed to protecting the weakest and most vulnerable members of society have agreed to turn their collective backs on unborn children, refused to promote diversity and dialogue on life issues, and failed to represent a significant portion of its constituency.

This is not your father or grandfather's Democratic Party. 


Gabriel said...

I enjoyed this post and I think you're right. I suspect that this rigidly pro-choice position will increasingly hurt the Dems at the polls, but I wonder if and when a political crisis will come that leads to some sort of party re-alignment.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As recently as 2006, there were 37 Democrat members of the House pro-life caucus. I make the 2012 count ~1.

[Can you caucus with yourself?]

See also

The Tragic Extinction of the Pro-Life Democrats
12:55 AM, SEP 5, 2012 • BY JONATHAN V. LAST

Four years ago in Denver, the group Democrats for Life hosted an event. A tiny cadre of anti-abortion Democrats assembled in a hotel conference room and were treated to a hopeful talk led by Senator Bob Casey and Representatives Lincoln Davis and Heath Shuler. The pro-life caucus was a minority in the party, they realized, but it was a crucial bloc and it would not be left behind by a President Obama, he of the purple states and the hope and change. A new era for pro-life Democrats was just around the corner.

It turns out, they were right about it being a new epoch. Except that instead of making a place in the sun for pro-life Democrats, the Obama presidency was more like a meteor-strike, triggering an ice age and driving the species to extinction.

So when Democrats for Life rallied in Charlotte yesterday morning, it was striking that the group couldn’t muster a single sympathetic office-holder. The panel consisted of two representatives who were ousted in 2010 (Bart Stupak and Kathy Dahlkemper) and two academics (Catholic University’s Stephen Schneck and St. Thomas’s Thomas Berg). It was a sad, but revealing, presentation. said...

Hi John,

I came across your recent book that explores the religious history of this country. I am intrigued enough to buy the book.

First, I wanted to see what else you have to say. I have to say, "Wow!" I did not know the Dems were once strongly pro-life. THINGS Changed!

Right now, I beginning the look into the facts about whether this is a "Christian" nation. I am a Christian and have reservations about what I've heard from the Christian Right, which includes Barton. :(.