by Kevin P. Rauch

Within the past several years, there has been a surge of opposition to abortion throughout our nation.  The annual March for Life has drawn hundreds of thousands of protesters and every year teenagers and young adults are disproportionately represented at these marches.  New ultrasound technology produces increasingly detailed images of fetal development within the womb.  In addition, a variety of new restrictions on abortions that are supported by strong majorities of the public have been passed at the federal, state, and local level.

Yet some things have not changed. The primary voices speaking out against abortion continue to come from the political right.  As a lifelong Democratic Party member with philosophically liberal leanings, I agree with many of my party leaders who say that opposition to abortion from those with conservative political views is often inconsistent, hypocritical, and logically flawed.  Based on this viewpoint, I would naturally expect to see far more opposition to abortion from those on the political left.

When looking at the broad range of issues supported by the modern-day liberal movement and the Democratic Party as a whole, an overall commitment to benevolent government clearly exists.  It is primarily liberals and Democrats who have rallied for an increase in the minimum wage to ensure that all workers get a fair and just compensation for the work they do.  It is liberals and Democrats who have been pushing for stronger gun control laws to curtail the number of violent shootings and gun-related homicides.  Liberals and Democrats are the ones who have been pushing for greater access to healthcare in order to treat and cure illnesses and save lives.  Liberals and Democrats have consistently been pushing for updated environmental laws to ensure that our air and water is clean and that our environment is protected for future generations.  On each and every one of these issues (and many more), one could easily classify the liberal position as being more “pro-life” than “pro-choice.”

Conservative Republicans often counter this by saying that such laws would be unconstitutional, ineffective, or unenforceable, but Democrats understand the need for government to get involved on all of these issues to help ensure greater fairness and morally-sound legislation to prevent (or at least attempt to prevent) individuals and corporations from acting in their own immediate interests at the expense of others, the community as a whole, and future generations.

It is precisely this logic that makes me, as a liberal Democrat, recognize the need for strong government intervention on the issue of abortion as well.  The fact that thousands of human lives have been ended before birth every year can be seen as a tragedy in itself.  This is an issue that I believe government can and should work to prevent.

Often, the circumstances leading to abortion involve financial instability and concern for the well-being of the child after birth.  In the current state of our society, these concerns strengthen arguments against new abortion laws and, for a number of people, offer some justification for the procedure itself–but this still does not mean that abortion would be the best solution for women in these circumstances. And if the government were to ensure that all pregnant women were given paid maternity leave and that all Americans (in particular, pregnant women, children, and teenagers) were guaranteed the right to healthcare and other necessities, abortions (in the majority of circumstances) would be far less justifiable from this perspective.

Considering the reality of our current political system, I can also understand the view that it is unlikely (or perhaps impossible) that liberal reforms such as paid maternity leave and Medicare for all will pass at any point in the foreseeable future.  One could then argue that the case for stronger abortion laws would become negotiable only after such reforms have legally taken place.  In today’s political climate, I do not take issue with direct opposition to abortion laws per se, but rather with the overall message and strategy that is being pursued by many abortion rights activists.  The primary view that is being actively promoted by the leaders of this movement is that abortion is an absolute, fundamental right, and that any concern for the well-being of the child inside the womb has no merit whatsoever.

My view is that care for a pregnant woman and care for her child in the womb are in no way mutually exclusive.  While I acknowledge that there are a handful of exceptions, I believe that it is entirely possible to care for both mother and child in the vast majority of cases.  However, many of the abortion laws being advanced by conservative Republicans do not adequately provide protections for the mother or even for the child after birth.  I feel that the best way for liberal Democrats to respond to these laws would be to argue for better alternatives that mandate comprehensive government programs to go along with such legislation, rather than arguing against the premise of the legislation itself.

While I certainly have had ethical concerns regarding many of the strategies employed by the conservative anti-abortion community, I have recently been more troubled with what has been going on among various abortion rights advocates.  While most of these advocates would proudly call themselves “pro-choice” on the issue of abortion, they have voiced hardly any concern for the many women who are being pressured to have abortions against their wishes.  There has been substantially little acknowledgement of the increasing number of young Americans participating in the annual “March for Life” each year.  During the trial and conviction of late-term abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell this past spring, there was evidence of many in the abortion rights camp not even wanting to mention this story for fear that it would undermine support for legal abortion.

Over the past forty years, there have been significant advances made in the field of science.  People have begun to understand the importance of conserving energy, water, and our natural food supply.  The nation has taken up recycling on a large scale, and most appliances are gradually become more energy efficient.  In addition, many philosophical positions and medical opinions have changed over the years, as increased evidence disproves commonly-held theories of the past.  In most cases, those Americans who identify as liberal are the ones who are most open to changing their thinking and advocating a new approach.  For this reason, I believe that it is important for liberals to be willing to keep themselves open to similar evidence that may indicate the need for a changing philosophy on abortion.

I realize that many people with liberal views would not agree that stronger abortion laws could ever be a good thing.  I am not attempting to bring all self-identified liberals into the pro-life camp.  However, there is solid evidence that many of the recent positions and actions taken by various abortion rights activists are going against our traditional liberal values.  It is important that we make a point to speak against whatever injustices we perceive from these groups as well.  In addition, we all need to make an effort to unite behind pro-lifers who share our liberal values in order to find common ground and to ensure that they are adequately represented in politics as well.  This is essential not only because it would help broaden our base and support for key liberal ideas, but also because excluding members who are pushing for greater government intervention out of concern for the well-being of human lives is an extremely illiberal thing to do!

Statement from Kristen Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life of America:

As individuals who support and endorse a whole life philosophy, we strongly urge the Republicans in the House – particularly those who share our commitment to the unborn – to end the budget showdown over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and work toward a budget that protects the sanctity of life at all levels. Read the full statement here.

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) is filing briefs in important legal proceedings involving the protection of pro-life principles.  As a DFLA board member and lawyer/scholar involved with those briefs, let me tell you what we’re accomplishing with these filings.

Most recently, we submitted a “friend of the court” brief in the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of pro-life sidewalk counselors who are challenging a Massachusetts law that requires them to remain 35 feet away from the entrance to an abortion clinic or its driveway.  For a number of years, the counselors have engaged women coming to the clinic in quite, civil conversations and provided them information about alternatives to abortion, including financial support and housing for mothers and children as well as adoption alternatives.  The “buffer zone” law, DFLA argues, has severely restricted not only the counselors’ right to speak in these conversations, but the right of willing women to receive such information.  Our brief shows, based on established studies, that a significant number of women decide for abortion with reluctance and are open to considering alternatives even as they go the clinic; but the buffer zone inhibits such personal conversation, forcing the counselors to shout quickly from a distance: that is, as we put it, casting them in “the stereotyped mold . . . of a shouting protestor.”  Read about and download the brief here.

In addition, we’ve submitted “friend of the court” briefs in several cases involving the federal mandate on employers to cover contraception, because the Obama administration defines that to include so-called emergency contraceptives such as the “morning-after” pill (Plan B) and the “5-day after” pill (Ella).  Many pro-life Americans object to those medications because, according to the FDA’s own labeling statements, they may act to prevent a fertilized embryo from implanting in the uterus, thus ending a life after conception.  In supporting business owners’ legal challenges, we argue that our nation has a tradition of giving broad protections to the conscience of those who object to supporting abortion—including provisions in the Affordable Care Act itself that protect employers and health-insurance plans from having to cover abortion.  Pro-life Democrats in Congress, led by then-Representative Bart Stupak, were instrumental in ensuring that the Affordable Care Act included such protections against abortion support.  DFLA and Bart Stupak are submitting the current briefs together to ensure that those conscience protections remain effective.  Our filings take no position on the required coverage of ordinary contraception, given DFLA members’ differing views on that issue; we focus on the medications that may cause abortions.  Although there is debate over whether these medications (especially Plan B) operate after conception, we argue that the plaintiffs should be protected as abortion objectors because their fear that the medications can cause abortions is reasonable.  Read about and download these briefs here.

We submit filings in these cases, and will in future cases, because they go right the heart of DFLA’s distinctive and vital perspective: that protecting life must include assisting pregnant women who are in difficult circumstances that effectively pressure many into deciding for abortion.  We’ve led the way in developing such assistance in the Pregnant Women Support Act (enacted in the health-care law) and in ensuring that health-insurance coverage would expand without promoting abortion.  Supplementing our emphases on educating the public and supporting pro-life Democratic officials and candidates, submitting these briefs—with the help of volunteer lawyers knowledgeable in the legal subjects—makes DFLA a crucial voice ensuring that the law protects whole-life principles and the conscience of pro-life Americans.

Tom Berg
DFLA Board Member
James Oberstar Professor of Law and Public Policy, University of St. Thomas (Minnesota)

From my article in the Washington Post: “For pro-life activists, was Pope Francis’ interview disappointing? Not for those of us who believe the protection of life requires more than opposition to legal abortion. To really stand for life means opposing the direct and indirect threats to life posed by inadequate healthcare, poverty, mass atrocities, euthanasia, lack of access to clean water, and countless other injustices, in addition to abortion. And opposition to abortion itself means providing support to families, pregnant women, and children, not simply supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. Pro-life efforts are strengthened by a more balanced approach from an ally who supports human life and dignity.”

21st Sep, 2013

The Whole Life Pope

Pope Francis, it seems clearer and clearer, is a true “whole lifer.”  In an interview published Thursday, he said that the Church cannot “obsess” with issuing pronouncements against abortion, but must approach that issue “in context” and must support persons “starting from their situation” and “accompany[ing] them with mercy.”  He included powerful words about helping the poor.  Some people—left and right—claimed he was weakening the church’s commitment to protecting the unborn among other vulnerable persons.  Oops … today the Pope reemphasized that “every unborn child … has the face of the Lord” and called abortion part of a “throwaway culture” that fails to recognize that “[t]he first right of the human person is his life.”  So now some people, no doubt, will go back to calling him a “right-winger.”  No … he’s a true whole lifer.  Hope our society can respond to his calls for protecting life at all stages, and providing the care and support that can make that possible.

By Tom Berg, DFLA Board member, law professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law (Minnesota)

Washington Post: “The House of Delegates voted 82-56 to repeal Maryland’s death penalty on Friday, making the state the sixth in as many years to abolish executions and delivering a major legislative victory to Gov. Martin O’Malley.”

5th Mar, 2013

How to reduce abortions

Richard M. Doerflinger, USCCB: “Poverty and the hopelessness it can bring into people’s lives is a major factor in the abortion rate. In one study by the Guttmacher Institute, women on Medicaid had twice the abortion rate of other women, even in states that fund childbirth but not abortions.”

Helen M. Alvaré and Meg T. McDonnell: “Embryology, genetics, neurology, not to mention ultrasound technology — they are probably responsible for the fact that none of the abortion-rights Web sites bothers any longer to attack the humanity of the unborn child. Second, the human rights nature of the abortion debate just never gets old.”

Michael Gerson: “Viewing the intellectually disabled as athletes has aided a civil rights revolution — changing both individual lives and social perceptions. And Special Olympics is carrying that revolution to a global scale.”

Take Part: “The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 is turning out to be the pro-life movement’s best friend.”

ABC News: “A pregnant teen who sued her parents, claiming they were coercing her to have an abortion, will be able to give birth to her baby.”

Millennial: “Once again, it was very encouraging to see that the audience at the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life was engaged and interested in the case that we were trying to make.  The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, particularly on the point that being pro-life needs to mean more than simply supporting restrictions on access to abortion.   And most seemed to agree that a strong pro-life bloc within the Democratic Party coupled with a strong bipartisan effort in the pro-life movement is the only way to effectively save the lives of the unborn and improve the lives of women and their families.”

Kristen Day: “Unless there is a united front to put pregnant women first, Roe will continue to provide a wedge issue, an excuse to raise money, or a reason to March on Washington. Women deserve better. Children deserve better. America deserves common-sense solutions that empower women to choose life.”

The Hill: “Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced three anti-abortion rights bills Thursday, one of which would double spending for a pregnancy assistance program aimed to help pregnant teens and college students.”

24th Jan, 2013

The Millennial Divide

American Spectator: “But at the moment Americans began to become more accepting of same-sex marriage, they were also becoming more pro-life — and, again, that change in sentiment was due to the changing views of young people.”

Anna Williams: “The battle over abortion, Shields concludes, ‘will be fought increasingly by gender egalitarians.’ Just don’t expect the pro-choice movement to admit it.”

Charles Camosy: “The important group Feminists for Life was founded at about this time,  and for decades these and other pro-life feminists have been fighting for women by presenting evidence that–contrary to conventional wisdom–broad abortion rights serve the financial and sexual interests of men.  And, tragically, hurt the flourishing of women.”

Daniel Darling: “First, the prolife movement should break free from the conservative movement and stand on it’s own. In other words, there are young evangelicals who may be prolife, but who don’t subscribe to all the tenets of political conservatism. This would enable the movement to be more nimble, to engage and join common cause with people of all political stripes to save innocent children from death. Secondly, the movement should adopt a more holistic version of prolife. We shouldn’t simply champion the unborn, but we should fight human trafficking and join other causes that defend human life.”

Washington Times: “Gov. Martin O’Malley will throw his support behind legislation to repeal the death penalty in Maryland this year, he announced at an event Tuesday while flanked by civil rights activists and legislators.”

Kim Daniels: “We should be grateful that Americans increasingly recognize that life in the womb deserves our protection and care. We should also be grateful for the pregnancy resource centers run by dedicated women and men around the country, offering hands-on help, material and emotional support, and most of all, love, from the moment of conception until after the baby is born and the mom has found the support she needs. This is love in action, and it’s changing hearts and minds. This is what it means to build a culture of life and love where all are welcomed and valued and protected.