What an interesting day this is, here in Beltway land. In order to read about how the Democratic Party is, on some issues linked to the sanctity of life, reaching out to mainstream Catholics and progressive evangelicals one need only read a solid news report that graces the top of A1 in the Washington Times, under the headline "Dems shift platform to woo pro-lifers -- Backs adoption, family programs." This is, of course, normally a place where one goes for insights into Republican life.
However, you want to read about the same news event in the Washington Post you need to, well, do lots of digging in digital terrain until you reach a weblog called The Trail, where you will find the headline "Conservative Dems Hail Party Platform's New Abortion Plank." It's been a long time since I have heard anyone call the Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners a conservative.
First things first. Here's the top of reporter Donald Lambro's piece in the Times:
Democrats aiming to woo pro-life voters have added new language to the party platform calling for taxpayer-funded efforts to reduce the number of abortions.
Although the platform retains its traditional statement supporting "a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion," the party's platform committee approved new wording last week in Pittsburgh that some Catholics and evangelicals say is a "significant step" toward reaching out to abortion opponents. The platform language calls for more government programs, income assistance and adoption services to aid a woman's decision to have a child.
"The Democratic Platform Committee really reached out to moderate religious leaders from evangelical and Catholic religious communities. The resulting language on abortion is a real step forward that provides some sorely needed common ground around reducing the need for abortion," the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a liberal religious group, said Tuesday.
The story contains a wide range of voices, from the usual anti-abortion organizations, who doubt the changes mean very much, over to pro-abortion-rights organizations that believe even a change in rhetoric and political tone is a threat to the current abortion-law regime.
This final pair of quotes tells you what you need to know:
"The Democratic platform persists in its unapologetic promotion of abortion, which kills unborn children and harms all those involved. Affirming the good of childbirth and adoption does not justify -- or in any way soften -- the party's official support for an intrinsic evil," said Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Some women's groups within the Democrats' liberal ranks were not happy with the direction of their party's abortion language.
"It's been our view as Democrats that women should make their decisions based on their moral values," former NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman told the New Republic in this week's issue. "The pro-life Democrats' language is a means to an end, and the end is to limit abortion."
And right there, in passing, is the key to the story. This debate about the platform is really about efforts to restrict the right to abortion in any way whatsoever, even compromise policies backed by a large numbers -- perhaps even a majority -- of Democrats/ Click here to see some Pew Forum numbers in a Scripps Howard column I wrote on this topic.
The Washington Post blog item by Alec MacGillis, since it is in cyberspace, has the room to include the full platform texts -- past and proposed -- that show the nature of the policy change.
The 2004 platform stated:
Because we believe in the privacy and equality of women, we stand proudly for a woman's right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay. We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right. At the same time, we strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.
As Democrats For Life leaders have noted, this language says that to be pro-life is to back a Republican policy stance -- period. There is no room for conscience on this issue among Democrats.
Now, the proposed 2008 platform language states:
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 Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also 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.
The Post report also notes another crucial fact about this new statement -- it did not restore the "conscience clause" language of the 2000 party platform. That document affirmed that Democrats stand "behind the right of every woman to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade." However, it also said:
" ... (The) Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party."
All of this coverage -- in ink at the Times and in digital form at the Post -- flowed out of telephone conference organized by Wallis and other evangelicals and Catholics who are trying to build bridges to help pro-life Democrats escape voting for the Republican Party. To read highlights and listen to this public-relations event, click here and head over to the Sojourners home page.
But, so far, the news reports have been missing a key fact. This afternoon, the leaders of Democrats For Life put out a press release (I have not been able to find it online) that included the text of the conscience clause that they had proposed for the 2008 Democratic Platform, only to see it rejected.
That proposed language -- which would have been attached to the abortion policy statement -- said:
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.
Instead of that specific statement, the platform committee added this safer language in the preamble, far from the hot-button plank on abortion:
We are the party of inclusion and respect differences of perspective and belief.
Stay tuned. And watch the front page of the Washington Times for developments. Who knows, the debates in Denver may take place in public and make it into the printed pages of the Post.
Photo: Another day at the U.S. Supreme Court