Tips for reporters covering pro-lifers

graphic1Let me jump in here with a quick follow-up on my recent post about press coverage of the Democratic Party platform's new language on issues linked to abortion and the sanctity of life. Our friend Steve Waldman, the czar and protector of all things Beliefnet.com, has posted his own observations about the language that came out of meetings between left-of-center Evangelical Protestants -- think Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, et al -- and the people who are charged with helping Sen. Barack Obama capture more voters from pews containing church-going Catholics and Evangelicals under the age of 30-something.

It also helps to know that Waldman -- with the omnipresent John C. Green of the Pew Forum -- is one half of the team that produced the classic "Tribal Relations" piece in Atlantic Monthly on the various camps of religious believers who are active today in American politics.

This quick dissection of the abortion plank is Waldman's opinion, but I share it as a handy guide to what the changed language may or may not mean. Also, I don't think anyone would accuse Waldman of being a voice for religious conservatives. Please consider this a quick study of the basic facts, which may prove helpful for reporters who are covering the issue. For starters, he notes:

(1) The Lack of Moral Language -- The key linguistic debate has been whether to "reduce the number of abortions" or "reduce the need for abortions." Pro-life folks favored the former. Pro-choice folks favored the latter. The pro-choice folks won. In fact, the 2004 platform said abortion "should be safe, legal and rare" -- language that's casts abortion reduction as morally preferable, something this platform does not.

(2) Abortion Reduction -- The draft platform includes -- for the first time -- language supporting policies specifically designed to reduce the need for abortions: "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 programs." We can therefore see the outlines of a pro-active position that might woo pro-life Catholics and evangelicals. Democrats can now say, you can support the Republican party which issues grand moralistic pronouncements but doesn't take enough practical steps to reduce the number of abortions or you can support the Democrats who do take those steps. It is an open question, however, whether Obama will go that far, since the platform clearly avoided using any moral language casting abortion as a morally inferior choice.

(3) Conscience Clause -- There is no "conscience clause" acknowledging and respecting the diversity of opinion within the party on abortion. Pro-life Democrats had hoped for that. ...

And so forth and so on. The key now, according to Waldman, is what kind of moral language Obama chooses to use on this kind of issue.

I have said, for months, that the conscience clause was the key. Some Conservatives have long said -- this is heresy, I think -- that it is impossible to be a Christian and a Democrat. However, the 2004 Democratic Party platform language put that statement in a mirror and said that to be pro-life is to back a stance on this issue that, in effect, makes one a Republican. The late Rev. Jerry Falwell could not have said it better.

So, reporters, Waldman is convinced that the debates over this part of the platform are not over. After all, the committee rejected the following proposed language from the organization Democrats for Life (look near the end of this link) that tried to restore freedom of conscience on this life-and-death issue. The proposed language, again, stated:

We respect the conscience of each American and recognize that members of our Party have deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, like abortion. We recognize the diversity of views as a source of strength and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who may hold differing positions on these and other issues.

It would be interesting to see Waldman apply his 12 tribes typology to this battle over abortion policy.

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