Democrats Made No Room on Abortion
Tonight Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D., Pa.) has a chance to avenge the dishonor visited upon his father.
That was in the summer of 1992, when elders in the Democratic Party denied Mr. Casey's pro-life father -- the governor of America's fifth-largest state -- a speaking slot at the convention. Though some try to rewrite history by asserting that Casey Sr. was not punished for his pro-life views, manifestly that was not Gov. Casey's take. And it was not the take of this reporter, standing near the governor in Madison Square Garden and watching his face as it all went down.
This was a Democratic convention where delegates sported buttons featuring the governor as pope. Where the Democratic Party chairman and convention chairwoman never even responded to his letters. But where the Democrats did find a speaking slot for Kathy Taylor -- a pro-choice Republican who had campaigned for Casey's gubernatorial opponent.
This year, we are told, it is different. There have been summits. There has been outreach. And there has been inclusion. One result is tonight's speaking slot for Mr. Casey.
Another is the party platform. Its drafting involved people as diverse as Doug Kmiec, a former official in the Reagan Justice Department; the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners; and the Rev. Joel Hunter, who describes himself as "not only a pro-life Evangelical, but also a registered Republican."
So what have they got for lending their good names? The new platform maintains the party's opposition to even the mildest restriction on abortion. It commits the party to using tax dollars to fund abortion. It also includes a call for spending more on things that might help a pregnant woman carry her child to term -- such as prenatal care and adoption programs. Calling for more assistance for pregnant women, of course, is ironic coming from the same people who have made it their mission to go after crisis pregnancy centers -- which are in the business of trying to get pregnant women to places that can provide this care.
Dana Goldstein, writing for the group blog of the liberal American Prospect, offers a more candid appraisal. "The Clintonian formula of 'safe, legal, and rare' has been scrubbed," she writes. "The adoption stuff is hardly new. And both the 2004 and 2008 platforms, with their 'regardless of her ability to pay' language, oppose the Hyde Amendment, which currently prevents Medicare and Medicaid from paying for abortions."
Her reading is shared by NARAL Pro-Choice America. This group enthusiastically hailed the platform for reaffirming -- "in the strongest of terms" -- the "Democratic Party's solid commitment to a woman's right to choose."
That is the position of the party that Mr. Casey will address this evening. It is also a position in line with the record of the candidate at the top of its presidential ticket. Yet when it comes to explaining this position and defending this record, Barack Obama's eloquence seems to abandon him.
At the Saddleback presidential forum on Aug. 16, he was asked when a baby begins to acquire human rights. Sen. Obama responded that the question was "above my pay grade."
When asked why, as an Illinois state senator, he had opposed legislation that would protect the lives of babies who had been born alive despite abortions -- legislation the U.S. Senate approved 98-0 -- he said it lacked language that had been in the federal version. When opponents pointed out he voted against a version that indeed included such language, he accused them of "lying." When the evidence showed they were correct, he shifted again -- and has yet to provide a credible answer.
This is the man that Mr. Kmiec and the Rev. Hunter would have us believe is the hope for a more pro-life America. This is the man whose candidacy Sen. Casey has advocated as head of Mr. Obama's "National Catholic Advisory Council." And this is the man the Pennsylvania senator will defend tonight -- in a speaking slot he was given only because of what his father was willing to endure for his principled stand.
Just days after the '92 convention, Casey Sr. published in this paper an article called "What I Would Have Told the Democrats." He made clear that "at a minimum" Democrats should have "explicitly rejected abortion on demand" with support for the voters' right to pass "reasonable restrictions" -- e.g., parental notification, abortion for sex selection, etc. He later refused to support his old friend Harris Wofford for re-election to the Senate in 1994, and considered a primary challenge against Bill Clinton in 1996 -- both on the issue of life.
Democrats are hoping Mr. Casey's address this evening will help persuade pro-lifers that the Democratic Party has changed. Perhaps.
But it's equally likely that the discussion itself will only highlight how absolutist the party remains. And perhaps lead voters to wonder about the eagerness of Mr. Casey and other self-declared pro-lifers to embrace a candidate whose record on abortion makes Teddy Kennedy look like Rick Santorum.