The practical distinctions between the Democratic Party's '04 and '08 platform positions on abortion may not be vast. But there's a world of difference in the way the platforms approach reproductive autonomy.
So-called "liberal" evangelical clergyman Jim
Wallis wanted to push "abortion reduction" into the Democratic Party
for Life wanted to extend health care coverage to fetuses (among other
measures, including an abortion reduction plank). Neither prevailed. Instead, the
proposed 2008 platform sheds 2004’s "safe, legal and rare" language in favor of a far more
expansive position in support of abortion access: "The Democratic Party
strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a
safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and
all efforts to weaken or undermine that right." The Dems also sign on for "affordable family
planning," "comprehensive age-appropriate sex education," and, surprisingly, given the scantly-opposed Hyde Amendment, support abortion access
regardless of a woman’s ability to pay for abortion care.
Cheering already? There’s more. Reproductive health care is included in the section entitled "Affordable,
Quality Health Care Coverage for All Americans," affording women’s health
advocates a measure of cautious optimism that reproductive health care coverage
might be included in
the mainstream progressive fight for comprehensive health reform. That
section also demonstrates the Democrats’ sensitivity to the extent to which
ideology has replaced science as the determinant of women’s health care
standards in the Bush administration:
We oppose the current Administration’s
consistent attempts to undermine a woman’s ability to make her own life choices
and obtain reproductive health care, including birth control…We will never put
ideology above women’s health.
whole section on "Opportunity for Women" talks
about fighting sex discrimination in pay, in math and science, and in the
workplace, and states an "unprecedented"
opposition to sexism itself. And this
year the platform explicitly includes a commitment to repealing the global gag
rule and restoring funding for UNFPA.
The 2004 platform argued for none of those.
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Democratic Party evangelicals — including Jim Wallis himself — characterize the proposed platform’s stance on abortion as a step toward "some
sorely needed common ground." But three of the four of the specifically reproductive health-related planks I mentioned — support for Roe and for family planning, and acknowledging economic barriers to abortion access — characterize the
2004 platform, too. Wallis is right that it all sounds different now — but not because Dems are hesitant about the moral dimensions of women’s reproductive autonomy. If anything, the opposite is true.
Let’s closely read the sections on choice in the 2004 and 2008 sections. In ’04, the platform stated, "We stand firmly
against Republican efforts to undermine that right [to choose]. At the same
time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion
should be safe, legal, and rare." Sure,
accessible and affordable family planning can and does help reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy (a fact acknowledged in the 2008 platform – "We also
recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of
unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions"), but the ’08 platform proclaims its support for family planning independent of what effect it might have on the abortion rate. This year, Dems support "access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education" because both "empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives."
And what about those adoption incentives? No mention of those in ’08. Significantly, the adoption rate doesn’t have any affect on the rate of abortion, as the ’04 platform
implies it does. (In fact, only a miniscule number of women bear children with the intent to relinquish.) Suggesting that adoption incentives might
offset the need for abortion is politically appealing but factually untrue.
The practical distinctions
between the ’04 and ’08 platforms may not be vast. But there’s a world of difference between
supporting access to family planning because it expands women’s reproductive
self-determination – as we see in the ’08 language – and because it can reduce
the abortion rate – what ’04 supports.
An advocate for the latter doesn’t care whether family planning is
voluntary or coercive, and pays little attention to whether a woman is using contraceptives
in the context of her sexual health education and empowerment and overall access
to health care. The 2008 document
correctly emphasizes, first, reducing unintended pregnancy – not abortion alone. Crucially, the ’08 platform also supports the
rights of low-income women who do wish to parent to take care of their own
children, instead of suggesting that abortion or adoption are poor women’s only
The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to
have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and
post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption
Abortion Is a Moral Choice
Jim Wallis may be content, but evangelical author Tony Campolo threw
down the gauntlet: he wants Obama to proclaim that "abortion is a moral matter" at this weekend’s Saddleback
Civil Forum. Writes the TrailBlazers
author Tony Campolo, a member of the Democratic platform-writing committee,
said he wants to see Barack Obama talk about reducing abortions this weekend
when he and John McCain appear together at Saddleback
Church in Southern
California. Campolo said dealing with economic problems that
prompt some women to get abortions is important. But he wants Obama also to say
abortion is a moral matter — and that any efforts that reduce it are merited.
Obama, try saying this: abortion is a moral matter. Why? Because access to safe abortion "is a measure of the value of women’s lives." Writes Linda Hirshman, "It is time to
revive the moral argument for protecting a woman’s right to choose." For
Hirshman, as for many feminists and religious people, the choice to terminate a pregnancy can be just as morally sacrosanct as the choice to sustain one. For the first time in many years of party platforms, the Democratic Party may be on its way to recognizing that.
Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.
Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.
It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.
As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.
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So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymore—now they’re murderers, too.”
Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”
Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”
It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of origin—conditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”
There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.
Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.
“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”
When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.
“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”
It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”
“The Border Crossed Us”
From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.
“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”
Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positive—illustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoric—at the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.
Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”
Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?
At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.
“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.
The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativistDonald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.
Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.
Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:
There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.
But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.
The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expandingmandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.
In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.
When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”
This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.
During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.
When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Hillary Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde Amendment.”
Democrats voted on their party platform Monday, codifying for the first time the party’s stated commitment to repealing restrictions on federal funding for abortion care.
The platform includes a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, an appropriations ban on federal funding for abortion reimplemented on a yearly basis. The amendment disproportionately affects people of color and those with low incomes.
“We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured,” states the Democratic Party platform. “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.”
The platform also calls for an end to the Helms Amendment, which ensures that “no foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.”
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Though Helms allows funding for abortion care in cases of rape, incest, and life endangerment, the Obama administration has failed to enforce those guarantees.
Despite the platform’s opposition to the restrictions on abortion care funding, it makes no mention of how the anti-choice measures would be rolled back.
Both presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have promised to address Hyde and Helms if elected. Clinton has said she would “fix the Helms Amendment.”
Speaking at the Iowa Brown and Black Presidential Forum in January, Clinton said that the Hyde Amendment “is just hard to justify because … certainly the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.” In 2008, Clinton’s campaign told Rewire that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”
When asked this month about the platform’s opposition to Hyde, Clinton’s running mate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) said in an interview with the Weekly Standard that he had not “been informed of that” change to the platform though he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”
“The Hyde amendment and Helms amendment have prevented countless low-income women from being able to make their own decisions about health, family, and future,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement, addressing an early draft of the platform. “These amendments have ensured that a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion is a right that’s easier to access if you have the resources to afford it. That’s wrong and stands directly in contrast with the Democratic Party’s principles, and we applaud the Party for reaffirming this in the platform.”