Progressive, Pro-Life and Full of Yourself

Frances Kissling

The Democratic Party Platform comes very close to embracing the reproductive health agenda that has been consistently advocated by the pro-choice, progressive women's movement. So why are "pro-life" progressives claiming victory?

On Tuesday, August 12, a loose coalition of anti-abortion
progressive evangelicals and Catholics held a press event to toot their own
horn. The new Democratic Party Platform, they claimed, took a big step in their
direction. The Platform’s explicit support for a woman’s decision "to have a
child," they argued, represents a common ground position. But the fact that
pro-choice advocates have always supported both the right to choose an abortion
and the right to choose a child
immediately undercuts any illusion that anti-abortion progressives either understand
what choice means or have any sincere desire to stand on common ground with
pro-choice progressives. Rather than
standing on "common ground," these self proclaimed pro-lifers are hanging on
the edge of cliff by their finger tips.

Not only is the new platform stronger
in its support for the right to choose abortion, it embraces the concept of
reproductive justice including not only family planning but comprehensive
sexuality education. If, in fact, these folks had anything to do with this new
plank, they did those of us who are pro-choice a big favor.

The 2004 Platform on choice was 59 words; this year’s
Platform devotes 127 words to the issue and sounds like a lot more than lip
service to women’s reproductive health. Support for Roe in the old Platform was
justified on the basis of privacy and women’s equality. The new Platform makes
no mention of privacy; instead, it derives
its moral authority from a "woman’s right to choose safe and legal abortion"
and talks about empowering people to make informed choices. A notable omission is
the Clintonian phrase "safe, legal and rare," replaced by a more honest and
modest goal of reducing unintended pregnancy through better health care, family
planning and comprehensive sex education. Sex education was not even mentioned
in the old Platform.

The progressive pro-life desire to see the Platform commit
to reducing abortions was subtly undercut; this year, the Platform merely
"recognizes" that sex ed, family planning and good health care will have the
effect of reducing the need for abortion. In all other areas, the Platform uses
strong language of commitment: the Party "strongly and unequivocally supports
Roe" and "strongly supports access to affordable family planning services." Even
the Platform’s support for pre and post natal care and income support for women
who have children is properly framed as a right on its own and not as a means
to reducing the need for abortion.

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All in all, the Platform comes very close to embracing the
full reproductive health agenda that has been consistently advocated by the pro-choice,
progressive women’s movement.

So why, you might ask, are "pro-life" progressives (PP’ers) claiming
victory in this Platform? Jim Wallis of Sojourners, the group that called the
press conference, acted as spin meister extraordinaire, calling the Platform an
"historic step forward" and thereby situating himself as a political power
broker. As evangelicals in the pews leave the hard right and flock toward megachurches
which focus less on controlling personal behavior and more on "feel good" faith,
including feeling good about helping the poor and saving the environment, a new
set of leaders is taking a closer look at the Democratic Party and positioning
themselves near left-leaning evangelicals like Wallis. It is here where common political
ground is being made. Up-and-coming religious leaders are as interested in
political power as are those of the hard right – and they know as well as
anyone else does that power is moving back to the hands of the Democrats.

This is the likeliest explanation for spinning a thoroughly
progressive pro-choice plank as an anti-abortion victory. As the Sojourners’ press conference
progressed, it became clear that other than vague support for women who choose to
continue pregnancies and "caring adoption laws," there was next to nothing in
the plank these folks supported. Doug Kmiec, an antiabortion Republican
Catholic who has endorsed Obama, noted that "The Platform still falls short of
the Catholic ideal." Falls short! It is a slap in the face to Kmiec’s Catholic
ideal, which includes not only no abortion but no birth control even for
married couples, and abstinence-only sexuality curricula. The Platform also makes
an oblique reference to condoms as a means of preventing the transmission of
HIV and AIDS, which the Catholic Church still rejects.

Others on the call and in the small coalition of PPers and pro-life
Democrats have even declined to support family planning, in spite of Wallis’
claim that the new Platform moves us from "symbolism to substance" and offers
concrete ways to reduce the number of abortions. Given his and his colleagues’ failure to support the measures that would
really reduce the need for abortion, this was pure rhetoric. Wallis’ Sojourners
"takes no position on contraception" and Democrats for Life refused to endorse
the contraceptive provisions in the Ryan-DeLauro bill entitled ‘Reducing the Need for
Abortion." Frankly, it is hard to accept that these groups have a genuine
interest in common ground on reducing the need for abortion when they refuse to
support the single most important measure that would make that happen – "access to affordable family planning" – and
these groups aren’t even Catholic. It is either naïve or cynical to pretend
that we will reduce the number of abortions by changing adoption laws or by the
totally inadequate funds we think we might get allocated to help women raise
kids. When you scratch the surface, the PPers are often sadly mostly just anti-abortion.

During the conference call, the group indicated it would push
for further language changes. Some questioned whether there was ever a "need"
for abortion. These progressives seem to resemble population controllers of old
— it is only the numbers that matter, not people’s lives. A progressive
Christian who has no sympathy for a woman who is carrying a deformed or
disabled child, who is herself stricken with cancer, or who already has more
children that she can care for, is suspect. And if that Christian is dumb
enough to believe that the Platform should not talk about reducing "the need"
for abortion — because there are always church groups
and anti-abortion groups ready to provide baby clothes or find good Christian
homes for babies who would have been aborted — he or she doesn’t
belong in Democratic politics.

The biggest disappointment the PPers acknowledged about the
Platform was that it did not moralize about abortion. But Wallis took solace in
the belief that the plank makes room for people with "moral convictions about
abortion" — as if those of us who support the right to choose have no moral
conviction that undergirds our respect for choice. In our Salon article Are Democrats Backpedaling on Abortion, Kate Michelman and I
warned against "going down the path of moral pandering on abortion," and
we are pleased the Party was of the same mind.

I take solace in the fact that the Democratic Party did
indeed move forward. I am certain that the quiet, experienced voices of
pro-choice leaders carried far more weight than Democrats and fellow travelers
who oppose a woman’s right to decide whether abortion or childbearing and
rearing is the best moral decision they can make.

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

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Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

Analysis Politics

The 2016 Republican Platform Is Riddled With Conservative Abortion Myths

Ally Boguhn

Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the Republican platform, which relies on a series of falsehoods about reproductive health care.

Republicans voted to ratify their 2016 platform this week, codifying what many deem one of the most extreme platforms ever accepted by the party.

“Platforms are traditionally written by and for the party faithful and largely ignored by everyone else,” wrote the New York Times‘ editorial board Monday. “But this year, the Republicans are putting out an agenda that demands notice.”

“It is as though, rather than trying to reconcile Mr. Trump’s heretical views with conservative orthodoxy, the writers of the platform simply opted to go with the most extreme version of every position,” it continued. “Tailored to Mr. Trump’s impulsive bluster, this document lays bare just how much the G.O.P. is driven by a regressive, extremist inner core.”

Tucked away in the 66-page document accepted by Republicans as their official guide to “the Party’s principles and policies” are countless resolutions that seem to back up the Times‘ assertion that the platform is “the most extreme” ever put forth by the party, including: rolling back marriage equalitydeclaring pornography a “public health crisis”; and codifying the Hyde Amendment to permanently block federal funding for abortion.

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Anti-choice activists and leaders have embraced the platform, which the Susan B. Anthony List deemed the “Most Pro-life Platform Ever” in a press release upon the GOP’s Monday vote at the convention. “The Republican platform has always been strong when it comes to protecting unborn children, their mothers, and the conscience rights of pro-life Americans,” said the organization’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser, in a statement. “The platform ratified today takes that stand from good to great.”  

Operation Rescue, an organization known for its radical tactics and links to violence, similarly declared the platform a “victory,” noting its inclusion of so-called personhood language, which could ban abortion and many forms of contraception. “We are celebrating today on the streets of Cleveland. We got everything we have asked for in the party platform,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, in a statement posted to the group’s website.

But what stands out most in the Republicans’ document is the series of falsehoods and myths relied upon to push their conservative agenda. Here are just a few of the most egregious pieces of misinformation about abortion to be found within the pages of the 2016 platform:

Myth #1: Planned Parenthood Profits From Fetal Tissue Donations

Featured in multiple sections of the Republican platform is the tired and repeatedly debunked claim that Planned Parenthood profits from fetal tissue donations. In the subsection on “protecting human life,” the platform says:

We oppose the use of public funds to perform or promote abortion or to fund organizations, like Planned Parenthood, so long as they provide or refer for elective abortions or sell fetal body parts rather than provide healthcare. We urge all states and Congress to make it a crime to acquire, transfer, or sell fetal tissues from elective abortions for research, and we call on Congress to enact a ban on any sale of fetal body parts. In the meantime, we call on Congress to ban the practice of misleading women on so-called fetal harvesting consent forms, a fact revealed by a 2015 investigation. We will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.

Later in the document, under a section titled “Preserving Medicare and Medicaid,” the platform again asserts that abortion providers are selling “the body parts of aborted children”—presumably again referring to the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood:

We respect the states’ authority and flexibility to exclude abortion providers from federal programs such as Medicaid and other healthcare and family planning programs so long as they continue to perform or refer for elective abortions or sell the body parts of aborted children.

The platform appears to reference the widely discredited videos produced by anti-choice organization Center for Medical Progress (CMP) as part of its smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. The videos were deceptively edited, as Rewire has extensively reported. CMP’s leader David Daleiden is currently under federal indictment for tampering with government documents in connection with obtaining the footage. Republicans have nonetheless steadfastly clung to the group’s claims in an effort to block access to reproductive health care.

Since CMP began releasing its videos last year, 13 state and three congressional inquiries into allegations based on the videos have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of Planned Parenthood.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund—which has endorsed Hillary Clinton—called the Republicans’ inclusion of CMP’s allegation in their platform “despicable” in a statement to the Huffington Post. “This isn’t just an attack on Planned Parenthood health centers,” said Laguens. “It’s an attack on the millions of patients who rely on Planned Parenthood each year for basic health care. It’s an attack on the brave doctors and nurses who have been facing down violent rhetoric and threats just to provide people with cancer screenings, birth control, and well-woman exams.”

Myth #2: The Supreme Court Struck Down “Commonsense” Laws About “Basic Health and Safety” in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt

In the section focusing on the party’s opposition to abortion, the GOP’s platform also reaffirms their commitment to targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws. According to the platform:

We salute the many states that now protect women and girls through laws requiring informed consent, parental consent, waiting periods, and clinic regulation. We condemn the Supreme Court’s activist decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down commonsense Texas laws providing for basic health and safety standards in abortion clinics.

The idea that TRAP laws, such as those struck down by the recent Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health, are solely for protecting women and keeping them safe is just as common among conservatives as it is false. However, as Rewire explained when Paul Ryan agreed with a nearly identical claim last week about Texas’ clinic regulations, “the provisions of the law in question were not about keeping anybody safe”:

As Justice Stephen Breyer noted in the opinion declaring them unconstitutional, “When directly asked at oral argument whether Texas knew of a single instance in which the new requirement would have helped even one woman obtain better treatment, Texas admitted that there was no evidence in the record of such a case.”

All the provisions actually did, according to Breyer on behalf of the Court majority, was put “a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a previability abortion,” and “constitute an undue burden on abortion access.”

Myth #3: 20-Week Abortion Bans Are Justified By “Current Medical Research” Suggesting That Is When a Fetus Can Feel Pain

The platform went on to point to Republicans’ Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a piece of anti-choice legislation already passed in several states that, if approved in Congress, would create a federal ban on abortion after 20 weeks based on junk science claiming fetuses can feel pain at that point in pregnancy:

Over a dozen states have passed Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Acts prohibiting abortion after twenty weeks, the point at which current medical research shows that unborn babies can feel excruciating pain during abortions, and we call on Congress to enact the federal version.

Major medical groups and experts, however, agree that a fetus has not developed to the point where it can feel pain until the third trimester. According to a 2013 letter from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “A rigorous 2005 scientific review of evidence published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester,” which begins around the 28th week of pregnancy. A 2010 review of the scientific evidence on the issue conducted by the British Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists similarly found “that the fetus cannot experience pain in any sense prior” to 24 weeks’ gestation.

Doctors who testify otherwise often have a history of anti-choice activism. For example, a letter read aloud during a debate over West Virginia’s ultimately failed 20-week abortion ban was drafted by Dr. Byron Calhoun, who was caught lying about the number of abortion-related complications he saw in Charleston.

Myth #4: Abortion “Endangers the Health and Well-being of Women”

In an apparent effort to criticize the Affordable Care Act for promoting “the notion of abortion as healthcare,” the platform baselessly claimed that abortion “endangers the health and well-being” of those who receive care:

Through Obamacare, the current Administration has promoted the notion of abortion as healthcare. We, however, affirm the dignity of women by protecting the sanctity of human life. Numerous studies have shown that abortion endangers the health and well-being of women, and we stand firmly against it.

Scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that abortion is safe. Research shows that a first-trimester abortion carries less than 0.05 percent risk of major complications, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and “pose[s] virtually no long-term risk of problems such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) or birth defect, and little or no risk of preterm or low-birth-weight deliveries.”

There is similarly no evidence to back up the GOP’s claim that abortion endangers the well-being of women. A 2008 study from the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion, an expansive analysis on current research regarding the issue, found that while those who have an abortion may experience a variety of feelings, “no evidence sufficient to support the claim that an observed association between abortion history and mental health was caused by the abortion per se, as opposed to other factors.”

As is the case for many of the anti-abortion myths perpetuated within the platform, many of the so-called experts who claim there is a link between abortion and mental illness are discredited anti-choice activists.

Myth #5: Mifepristone, a Drug Used for Medical Abortions, Is “Dangerous”

Both anti-choice activists and conservative Republicans have been vocal opponents of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA’s) March update to the regulations for mifepristone, a drug also known as Mifeprex and RU-486 that is used in medication abortions. However, in this year’s platform, the GOP goes a step further to claim that both the drug and its general approval by the FDA are “dangerous”:

We believe the FDA’s approval of Mifeprex, a dangerous abortifacient formerly known as RU-486, threatens women’s health, as does the agency’s endorsement of over-the-counter sales of powerful contraceptives without a physician’s recommendation. We support cutting federal and state funding for entities that endanger women’s health by performing abortions in a manner inconsistent with federal or state law.

Studies, however, have overwhelmingly found mifepristone to be safe. In fact, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says mifepristone “is safer than acetaminophen,” aspirin, and Viagra. When the FDA conducted a 2011 post-market study of those who have used the drug since it was approved by the agency, they found that more than 1.5 million women in the U.S. had used it to end a pregnancy, only 2,200 of whom had experienced an “adverse event” after.

The platform also appears to reference the FDA’s approval of making emergency contraception such as Plan B available over the counter, claiming that it too is a threat to women’s health. However, studies show that emergency contraception is safe and effective at preventing pregnancy. According to the World Health Organization, side effects are “uncommon and generally mild.”