In an August 25 column, the New York Times’ Ross Douthat wrote about “The Democrats’ Abortion Moment” in the wake of Todd Akin’s comments about abortion. It was a prescient column, worth quoting extensively:
Having Akin front and center is clearly helpful to the Democrats. Having liberal politicians harping incessantly on the issue — accusing Mitt Romney (falsely) of favoring banning abortion in cases of rape, headlining abortion rights at the Democratic Convention, and so on — is a riskier maneuver.
As the Republican Party has discovered in the past, when voters want to talk about the economy and you can’t stop talking about the culture war, it’s easy to seem out of touch even when the public agrees with what you’re saying.
On the abortion issue, too, Democrats have a tendency to forget that the public doesn’t necessarily agree with them. Only 22 percent of Americans would ban abortion in cases of rape or incest, according to Gallup. But that’s an exceptional number for exceptional circumstances. The broader polling shows a country persistently divided, with women roughly as likely to take the anti-abortion view as men. (Indeed, the small minority that opposes abortion in cases of rape includes more women than men.)
The polling also shows plenty of cases where public opinion cuts strongly against the pro-choice side. Large majorities support bans on second- and third-trimester abortion, on sex-selective abortion and on the controversial “partial birth” procedure.
These are issues where many Democratic politicians have something in common with Akin: They have abortion positions well outside the American mainstream.
Because the press is reliably sympathetic to the cause of abortion rights, and because pro-choice extremism tends to be the province of sophisticates and tastemakers, this reality does not always get the attention it deserves. But it’s crucial to understanding the risk that the Democrats are taking if they set out to make this election a referendum on abortion.
That’s because in Barack Obama, they have a nominee who occupies the far leftward pole of the abortion debate, with a long and reliable record of voting against even modest regulations on the practice — including a vote he cast as an Illinois lawmaker against regulations intended to protect infants born accidentally as a result of a botched abortion. President Obama rarely bothers with Bill Clinton’s “safe, legal and rare” formulation: he’s pro-choice with almost no limitations or exceptions.
Hence the dangerous (for liberals) question lurking beneath the surface of the Akin controversy. If the Republican nominee for Senate in Missouri is an extremist on abortion, what does that make the president of the United States?
If Douthat’s point/warning made sense at the time of the column, two weeks later it seems as if Douthat quite accurately predicted the missteps that would take place in the Democratic Party. As a pro-life Democrat I had a feint hope that Douthat’s wisdom might temper the instincts of the pro-choice majority in the Democrat Party—perhaps instead of ramping up their commitment to pro-choice extremism, the leadership of the National Party would seize the moment to be a big-tent party that would reflect substantively the ambivalence of the American people 40 years after Roe v. Wade. Alas, major actions demonstrate that Douthat accurately predicted the mood of Obama’s Democratic Party.
First, the Platform Committee of the DNC rejected attempts by Democrats for Life to make room for the opinions of pro-life Democrats within the party’s platform. Instead, the party passed a platform that continues a trend away from inclusion and towards precisely the extreme view Douthat warned against. This platform action, combined with a heavy emphasis on the issue during the Convention, was summarized clearly by Politico in a column entitled “Read Their Lips: Who Matters to Democrats”.
Uncompromising support for abortion rights
The party platform and the list of convention speakers – which includes NARAL Pro-choice America’s Nancy Keenan, Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Cecile Richards, birth control activist Sandra Fluke and some of the strongest abortion rights supporters in Congress – makes clear the Democratic Party is now as uncompromising as the GOP on the issue of abortion rights.
It’s not just the heavy presence of abortion rights supporters and the absence of abortion opponents on stage that proves it. Just look at the evolution of the party platform over the past three conventions. The language respecting “the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue” and that “we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party” vanished in 2004. The language about making abortions “rare” disappeared in 2008.
The Democratic Party now, in its 2012 platform, “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy” and will “oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”
All of this has me, a pro-life Democrat, feeling like I did years ago as an anti-war Republican. I am convinced that my position is deeply consistent with the values and history of the Party, and I know that a sizable minority in the Party agree with me, but I have no voice in the elite leadership of the party and I worry that a vote for my Party will be interpreted as acquiescence to an extreme position that injures the common good.