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Op-Ed

How the Democratic platform betrays millions of the party faithful

The abortion plank in the 2016 Democratic platform effectively marginalizes the voices of 21 million pro-life Democrats. It means the party that is supposedly on the side of justice for the vulnerable no longer welcomes those of us who #ChooseBoth; that is, those of us who want the government to protect and support prenatal children and their mothers.

Most significantly, the platform calls for the repeal of the Hyde and Helms amendments, which prevent taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions. This would force those who object to abortion to contribute to what we believe would be government-funded killing, and it would eradicate policies that have already saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

Platforms are sometimes ignored, but they are hard-fought outlines of each party's character and often signal a party’s future trajectory. The 2016 Democratic platform is a flat-out betrayal of millions of Democrats, undoing policies that have kept us in the party working toward common progressive goals on a host of other issues.

Here are three other ways the 2016 platform betrays Democrats like us:

  • It calls for repeal of all “federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion.” Support for abortion rights in this platform is deemed “unequivocal.”
  • The platform asserts that “reproductive health” — which includes access to “safe and legal abortion” — is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing.”
  • A commitment to religious liberty in the context of abortion, which was included in the 2012 platform, has been removed.

U.S. abortion law (which permits abortion for any reason until viability, about 22 to 23 weeks) already makes many progressive countries in Europe (which set their threshold for abortion at 12 to 13 weeks) look like pro-life radicals. Now the Democratic platform pushes the party to roll back even the very modest abortion regulations currently on the books.

And removing even a nod toward “religious liberty” from the platform puts Democrats at fundamental odds with the many religious organizations whose mission is nonviolence and protection of the most vulnerable.

In the 2008 presidential primary campaign, candidate Hillary Clinton said abortion should be safe, legal and rare. “And by rare,” Clinton emphasized, “I mean rare.” Yet her 2016 platform team has approved provisions that make access to abortion crucial to the well-being of every single person on the planet.

The Democratic Party's abortion stances have already caused many to leave the party, and many more will drop out because of the platform wording. The percentage of extreme abortion rights advocates is increasing in the party, but only because the total number of Democrats has shrunk to its lowest level since the Hoover administration.

Abortion is also among the reasons Democrats lost their majority in the House of Representatives. In the key states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, for example, Democrats held the majority of seats until Republicans were able to associate the Affordable Care Act with “the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.” (In some states, Obamacare covers abortion; no states can use federal subsidies or tax credits to pay for the procedure.) 

Former Rep. Steve Driehaus (D-Ohio) filed a lawsuit against the Susan B. Anthony List, which, working with the Republican Party, had falsely accused him of supporting taxpayer funding of abortion because he supported Obamacare. Driehaus charged that being associated with abortion in this way led directly to his defeat.

He wasn't alone: Sixty-four Democrats voted for the antiabortion Stupak amendment to the Affordable Care Act; 88% of those seats went to Republicans after Democrats were tied to the assertion that Obamacare funded abortion. Former Democratic Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, who lost his bid for reelection, noted that antiabortion voters didn’t stop sending people to Congress: “They just stopped sending Democrats.”

To beat Donald Trump, the Democratic Party needs to carry swing states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida, where radical support for abortion rights has been proven to drive away voters. The party also has been working hard to turn traditionally red states like Texas blue or at least purple, and abortion-rights extremism won't help that cause either.

Finally, Democrats depend on the votes of young people and women, and both groups (especially young women) are far more antiabortion than is generally known. For instance, clear majorities of women — and of young people — favor a 20-week limit on abortion.

“As a feminist and a mother, I find it troubling that the Democrats have such extreme views in support of abortion,” said Jeanne-Nicole Saint-Laurent, an assistant professor at Marquette University. “I'd never support Trump, but if the Democrats had a more moderate position on abortion it would be easier to support Clinton. I just can't support the violence of abortion.”

The future of the Democratic Party depends on its diversity, its ability to remain inclusive. The 2016 platform language on abortion torpedoes those goals. When Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia heard about the platform's call to repeal the Hyde amendment he had a succinct response: “That’s crazy.” We couldn’t say it any better.

Kristen Day is executive director of Democrats for Life and Charles Camosy is an associate professor of theological and social ethics at Fordham University.

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