Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Common Ground

Andrea Lynch

The Democrats have taken a step in the right direction as they search for common ground on reproductive rights—but where does the journey end?

Ever since the Democrats started their search for "common ground" on reproductive rights, it's been a downright rhetorical roller coaster. I'm glad the Dems are trying to work it out, but I can't say the ride hasn't left me a little nauseated at times. First, we were all meant to agree that "preventing abortion" was a comprehensive reproductive rights platform that everyone could get behind — if, by comprehensive, you meant supporting everything but safe and legal abortion. Then, we were all gathered under the banner of "reducing abortions" — since we can all agree that abortion should be "safe, legal, and rare." Now, the rhetoric has shifted yet again, and it's all about "reducing the need for abortions." I like where we're going, but I'm still not sure where we're going to wind up.

Just the other week, the House accepted the Reducing the Need for Abortions Initiative (a modified version of pro-choice Democratic congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and anti-abortion Democratic congressman Tim Ryan (D-OH)'s Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act) as part of the FY 2008 Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations bill. The Initiative is a $647 million package that includes the first funding increases in six years (since a certain special someone took office, that is) for the Title X federal family planning program, the Child Development Block Grant, and After-School Programs for kids; in addition to funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs that offer information about condoms and contraception as well as abstinence; new nurse home visitation program grants; an adoption awareness campaign at CDC; funding for a National Survey of Family Growth; and funding for domestic violence prevention.

I like the direction we're heading with the latest "reducing the need for abortions" strategy — away from restrictions on safe abortion, which not only breed injustice in access to health services but also fail in their stated goal of making abortion more "rare," and toward supporting a more comprehensive platform on pregnancy and parenting. The legislation is clearly good politics, and I wholeheartedly support the kinds of programs it funds: what advocate for reproductive justice wouldn't applaud an increase in funding for the Title X federal family planning program, more money for "medically accurate, age-appropriate approaches to preventing teen pregnancies" (including information about contraception), and more resources dedicated to childcare, after-school programs, and domestic violence prevention? The initiative seeks, laudably, to alleviate some of the conditions that make choosing to have a child so difficult for so many women. I disagree with Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who opposed the initiative because, in her words, "I don't believe any woman decides between having an abortion or not on the basis of ‘Is there day care available?'" In my experience, women do consider things like childcare, maternity leave, health insurance, housing, employment, and violence when they make their reproductive decisions — and, frankly, to assume they don't smacks of never having had to worry about such things yourself. If this legislative approach can get those who oppose abortion behind increased federal funding for stuff like childcare and family planning, then who cares how they get there?

Of course, building support for a common-ground approach in a media culture fixated on controversy and polarization is no small task. On July 26, Stephanie Simon covered the new legislation — which she considers evidence that Democrats "have begun to adopt some of the language and policy goals of the antiabortion movement" — for the L.A. Times. Her article ran under the following headline: "Democrats shift approach on abortion: As lawmakers and candidates appeal to religious voters, their language and policy goals on the issue have a ring of conservatism."

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Okay. First, since when have increased funding for childcare and domestic violence prevention been policy goals of the antiabortion movement? Second, I know plenty of religious voters who are pro-choice. And third, have progressives in this country really ceded so much moral ground that the idea of supporting pregnant and parenting women now "rings of conservatism"? I think not. The vast majority of pro-choice women I know who help women make and process pregnancy decisions at the grassroots level see their work holistically, and — despite radical anti-abortion activists' claims that they pressure women into having abortions through deception, coercion, and misinformation (ever heard of projection, guys?) — none of them would count increasing or even maintaining the current abortion rate among their professional and activist goals. However, I don't think "reducing" the abortion rate is a major goal for them either — not because they want women to have abortions, but because the point isn't to get women to do any one particular thing. And I guess that's why, despite my support for the provisions included in this new legislation, I still have a problem with the fact that all of this great stuff comes under the heading of "reducing the need for abortion."

Maybe it's that I still don't trust the Democrats — I see how willing they are to use women's right to safe and legal abortion as a political bargaining chip, and I see how many of the compromises they have made in the past have left poor women, young women, and other marginalized women out in the cold. Maybe it's because I can't tell if they are offering up genuine options, or incentivizing childbirth at the expense of real choice. DeLauro and Ryan's press release would suggest the former, but Simon's article — where the CDC's adoption awareness campaign becomes funding to "counsel more young women in crisis to consider adoption, not abortion" — smacks of the latter. If the point of this legislation is to create a culture that says "We'll reward you, but only if you have a baby" rather than "We don't want having a baby to be a liability for you," I'm not sure I can get behind it.

I guess that's because I think that reducing the need for abortions is a good thing, but I don't think it's really the point. For me, the point is to create a culture that supports women and their partners to make whatever decision is best for them, backed up by real social and economic support for whatever decision they choose to make. Such a culture, in addition to providing people with all of the skills, tools, and information they need to avoid unintended pregnancies, includes safe, respectful, accessible, and affordable abortion services; quality healthcare for women during pregnancy and during and following birth; complete adoption information and services; paid maternity leave; affordable, quality childcare; and guaranteed health insurance for babies, children, and the adults that they will one day become (not to mention affordable housing, freedom from violence and discrimination, equal employment rights, and everything else that social justice involves). If we create that culture, I wouldn't be surprised if the abortion rate fell. But for me, reducing the abortion rate would not be the end goal of creating such a culture. The end goal, as I see it, would be to build a society that makes us all proud — one that puts its money and its policies where its mouth is during discussions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And if that's not common ground in this country, we're in serious trouble.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Clarifies Position on Federal Funding for Abortion, Is ‘for the Hyde Amendment’

Ally Boguhn

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Hillary Clinton’s running mate, clarified during an interview with CNN on Friday that he still supports the Hyde Amendment’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

During Kaine’s appearance on New Day, host Alisyn Camerota asked the Democrat’s vice presidential nominee whether he was “for or against” the ban on funding for abortion. Kaine replied that he had “been for the Hyde Amendment,” adding “I haven’t changed my position on that.”

Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager, told CNN on Sunday that Kaine had “said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment.” Another Clinton spokesperson later clarified to the network that Kaine’s commitment had been “made privately.”

The Democratic Party voiced its support for rolling back the restriction on federal funding for abortion care in its platform, which was voted through this week.

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“We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment,” reads the platform.

Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard that he was not aware that the party had put language outlining support for repealing Hyde into the platform, noting that he had “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Clinton has repeatedly said that she supports Hyde’s repeal, calling the abortion care restriction “hard to justify.”

Abortion rights advocates say that Hyde presents a major obstacle to abortion access in the United States.

“The Hyde amendment is a violent piece of legislation that keeps anyone on Medicaid from accessing healthcare and denies them full control over their lives,” Yamani Hernandez, executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, said in a statement. “Whether or not folks believe in the broken U.S. political system, we are all impacted by the policies that it produces. … Abortion access issues go well beyond insurance and the ability to pay, but removing the Hyde Amendment will take us light years closer to where we need to be.”

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.