Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Democrats Should Take The Abortion Wedge And Shove It Up The GOP’s Ass

I was a guest on “The David Goldstein Show” on KIRO 710 radio Sunday night, and during the discussion, David took a call from a woman (a lifelong Democrat) that expressed her displeasure with the Democratic Party for its stance on abortion. She made a good point when she asked (I’m paraphrasing a bit), “Why in the world would the Democratic Party think that the same people who work for peace, for the poor and for healthcare for all, would not also be concerned about protecting the lives of the most vulnerable among us?” She was clearly speaking about the “unborn” and she is clearly a “pro-life” Democrat that feels left out and ignored by her Party. Luckily for me (or her, depending on your perspective), her call came at the very end of the show and there was not enough time for me to respond, because as I discussed the issue with Will Kelly-Kamp (one of the other guests) after the show, I realized that I would have given a reactionary response rather than a measured and thoughtful one, and I do know that little progress is made through exchanges like that. I mean really, how many social problems has Rush Limbaugh solved?

Will mentioned to me that 40% of Democrats are pro-life and I was shocked by that number but my reaction was still, “That means that 60% are for choice and we don’t need two anti-choice Parties.” Of course that is true, but what if we stopped engaging in the debate about abortion rights on the Republicans’ terms and started defining the issue for ourselves? We all know that abortion gets the religious right out to the polls, but we also know that Republicans have no real interest in outlawing abortion on the national level, if they did, they could have done so already. What the Republicans want is to have the option of taking the moral high ground while doing nothing other than paying lip service to the abortion issue. Why don’t we take that issue away from them and put them on the defensive for a change?

Now I am firmly pro-choice and I have no moral issue with abortion whatsoever, but to ignore the fact that many people do, many Democrats even, would not be politically productive. The Republicans have managed to make this a very divisive issue, but really, it doesn’t have to be and it can be a winner for Democrats if they take the initiative and define the issue properly and in a way that we can all understand and support. What would it do to the Republicans if the Democrats put reducing the number of abortions in this country into the Party platform (without changing the language on choice of course, but in addition to it)? It would be devastating to the Republicans and would energize people like the woman who called in to David’s show. If done right, it could turn abortion into a unifying issue for the Democrats and neutralize the Republicans’ favorite perennial wedge. That kind of payoff is certainly worth taking a look at.

Whether abortion is legal or not, abortions will still take place, they took place before it was explicitly made legal and they took place privately when they weren’t available openly. Making abortion illegal does not save lives, it only puts more at risk. If we really want to reduce the number of abortions in this country, we must take a serious look at the underlying causes of unwanted pregnancy and the factors that drive women to terminate them. Doing this would show the Democrats’ commitment to the issue and expose the Republicans’ plan of simply making abortion illegal, as the ineffectual sham that it is.

But, before we can solve the problem, we must recognize that we don’t all have the same problem with abortion. For those who consider themselves “pro-life”, the problem is that there are too many abortions performed. For those who are “pro-choice”, the problem is that our right to make our own reproductive decisions is constantly under threat. But just because we define the problem differently, doesn’t mean we can’t find solutions in common. I’m not particularly concerned with reducing the number of abortions per se, but I am interested in providing women with more choices, and by doing that, those who are concerned with reducing the number of abortions would get what they want as well. We may not have the same reasons for addressing the underlying factors that contribute to abortion, but we can still come up with a plan that we can all get behind.

We all know what causes pregnancy, it’s not a secret and we should stop acting like it is when it comes to our children. They need to be taught about sex and how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and from unwanted pregnancy, sticking our heads in the sand and telling teenagers to “just say no” is asinine. We have to be realistic and give kids the knowledge and the tools they need to make good decisions when it comes to sex. And birth control should be easily and widely available, it’s just common sense that universal access to birth control will dramatically reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, thus reduce the need for abortion. I understand that some religious folks in this country don’t believe in birth control, but in the spirit of solving the problem (however we each define it), they are going to have to give on this issue as well. It flies in the face of logic to argue against birth control in an effort to reduce unwanted pregnancies. If some of the dietary restrictions set forth in the Bible can now be safely ignored, certainly the “every sperm is sacred” rule can be set aside as well. Sometimes rules become unnecessary and in this case, counter-productive to solving a problem. Far be it for me to tell God’s followers how to interpret the Bible, but if the issue of abortion is as important as they claim, they’re going to have to give a little too.

Now, Democrats for Life have proposed the 95/10 Initiative that sets a goal of reducing the number of abortions by 95% over the next ten years. Seems like a good idea, but for the most part, their proposals on how to get there are unrealistic and fly in the face of what the Democratic Party stands for. They advocate parental notification for minors seeking abortions, ultrasound machines so that women can see their “unborn child” before they chose to abort and prohibit the transport of a minor over state lines for the purpose of obtaining an abortion. But they have some good ideas in there as well, such as making the adoption tax credit permanent, funding childcare on college campuses, giving more funds to the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, federal funds for pregnancy prevention education and a federally funded toll free number where women can get information about resources available in their area. These are great ideas, as long as the information provided is done so without judgment and without a specific end result in mind. But what they propose is just a start, there are much bigger issues that contribute to the number of abortions that are more in line with a progressive agenda and would be received much better by pro-choice Democrats that still make up the majority of the Party.

Many women that choose to have abortions do so for economic reasons. We do not have universal healthcare, so pre-natal care is a daunting proposition not to mention the cost of giving birth and the cost of well baby check-ups and doctor visits when your kid gets sick. If you have a job that provides healthcare, once you leave to have a baby, that healthcare goes away.

We do not have universal childcare, and let me tell you, childcare is expensive. I chose to stay home with my children for many reasons, but one of the contributing factors was the outrageous cost of childcare, in Seattle it runs around $1000 a month per kid. If we build a birth to college education system in this country, women could return to work and not have upwards of 50% of their income going towards childcare.

We also have a failing education system that is leaving far too many of our kids behind, kids that grow up with few opportunities to make a decent living and when they get pregnant, they see those options shrink even further. We have an economy that is loosing family wage jobs at an alarming rate and without economic security, it is sometimes difficult to carry on a pregnancy when you know it will only put the children you already have in further economic jeopardy.

By focusing on these issues in a concerted effort to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions, Democrats could gain broad support from pro-choice and pro-life voters at the same time. I have no problem with trying to reduce the number of abortions, I just cannot get behind any effort to do so that marginalizes the rights of women to have sovereignty over their own bodies. But increasing resources for pregnant women and women with children, well, I say, when can we get started? I’m certainly not going to get hung up on the objective if the path we take to get there benefits women and working families at the same time it brings more disenchanted Democrats (and maybe even a few Republican “values voters”) back into the fold.

I’m tired of arguing about abortion, it would be nice to solve a few problems for a change rather than spending so much time defending the rights we have. This is one way that we can move forward as a society without having to take the Republican mandated two steps back first. I think it’s at least worth a discussion.


Blogger Godlessfriend said...

These are the type of debates that Dem's need to be hashing out to strengthen and unite the party. I'm sure there are more examples, but I think U.S. Senator Harry Reid is a good one for those pro-lifers who lean Republican solely on this issue. He is a pro-life Mormon on Sunday, and a democratically elected representative the other six days. We do keep a close eye on him though ;) Nevada is not the bible belt so it works well enough here. Thanks for the post.

Maybe after we hash out this one a bit we could move right to the other myth...Dems vs. the NRA.

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

As with all suggestions for
improvised suppositories, particularly those to be applied to Repugs, patient must first remove head from ass. This presents an insoluble dilemma for most Repugs, who value the 'view' above all else.

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a pro-life Democrat female, I appreciate the recognition that this issue can not be an either or proposition. We believe in the values of the Democratic party - thanks for the thoughtful consideration of this complex dilema!

7:31 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Anonymous—Thank you so much for your thoughts, and I apologize beforehand, I can tell this is going to be a lengthy reply.

I think there is a disconnect between pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Democrats that is never really broached because we don’t know how to do it outside of the Republican right-wing religious frame. Pro-choice women have felt under attack for so long that we often feel afraid to give even an inch, lest we lose the right to determine what happens in our own bodies. And pro-life Democrats have seen their concerns marginalized for so long that they are frustrated by not being listened to. Both sides are really reacting to the illogical and regressive rhetoric of the right that pushes for “solutions” that they don’t even really want and that they know won’t work anyway. But I really do think that this issue is a solvable one.

A perfect example is two of my dearest friends. One helped run the Feminist Women’s Health Center, the only abortion provider for miles around, and one is an Evangelical Christian that marches in pro-life demonstrations. The three of us have had many conversations about abortion and in the end, we agree on solutions, but we never agree on why they are necessary because we come at the issue from very different places. If we can set aside the reasons for action and focus on the actions themselves, we could make some serious progress. My Evangelical friend provides childcare and seeks to help women that want to continue their pregnancy and my feminist friend makes sure that women have access to all options available to them. They both help women, if we can focus on that, the rest will take care of itself.

No one likes abortion, even though I have no moral objection to it, I never wanted to have one and was lucky enough (mostly through meticulous prevention) to not have to make that decision for myself. I have known plenty of women who have, and even for those like me that have no moral issue with it, it certainly wasn't an enjoyable or sought after experience. For most, I imagine, it is a painful and emotionally charged decision that they would rather not have had to make.

I respect those that have a moral objection to abortion, especially when it is for religious reasons, and I do believe that all sides can come together and agree on certain things that will reduce the need and incidence of abortion. The all or nothing approach that the Republicans and the religious right have put forth neither solves the problem, nor furthers any kind of meaningful discussion. I think the Democrats are missing a huge opportunity by not engaging in the debate and bringing all sides to the table to broker solutions that we can all get behind.

We will have to start from the pro-choice position (since that is where most of the Party currently is), but there is plenty of room for creative solutions that don’t erode women’s choice but that offer a serious addressing of pro-life concerns and that will foster inclusion of the pro-life members of the Party that want meaningful change to come, but not at the expense of women’s freedom. We pro-choice advocates would do well to recognize that you are not the enemy, but rather an ally in the quest to make women and children’s lives better. You are not the religious right and we need to remember that if we are to make any progress at all.

12:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it pro-life or pro-choice if you believe:
1. Prevention should be the primary focus of one's efforts.
2. Upon learning one is pregnant, that you be encouraged to bring a child into the world for yourself.
3. If you cannot raise the child yourself, to give him/her up for adoption.
4. If none of these choices work for you, that you may seek abortion.

It seems to me that if only number 4 is discussed and described as pro-choice or pro-life, it distorts the decision making process.

Protecting innocent life should be the locus of all our actions, but respecting the decisions of those who choose to abort deserves equal respect.

5:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for your debate on this contentious issue. I must say I am a bit put out by those who are pro-life, democrats or republicans alike. I believe their argument is disingenuous. They often only support the life of a fetus, not babies, families, children. If so-called "pro-lifers" would put as much energy into helping living babies and their families improve the quality of life, the world would be a much better place. "Pro-life" to me is just another way of saying women should not be allowed to be sexually active without threat of negative consequences. It is about punishment for the sin of being female and wanting to break out of the bounds set by religious morality. I personally believe an abortion is fine, as long as it is done before the fetus is viable. I am also a supporter of adoption, but pro-lifers act as if it is the easiest things to do in the world. No, it is one of the hardest things a person can do, give up a full term baby that looks like you, smells like you, needs you, after you've given birth to it, seen it, nursed it perhaps, and held it. Pro-lifers see the world as black and white. In reality, there are a thousand shades of gray.

7:27 AM  
Blogger Mary Kay said...

You'll never see that headline in the New York Times! Thanks, LGND, for the tidy thesis statement and the thoughtful argument. Well done!

9:45 AM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

I am a little frustrated that we (as a country) seem stuck with the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" when discussing this issue. As the above anonymous commentor beautifully illustrated, wanting women to have access to all options doesn't make us against life. The terms are terrible descriptions and it's the perfect example of what happens when we let Republicans and the religious right define the terms of the debate. It gives the illusion that there are only two sides and that is simply not true.

Again, I think if we focus on action instead of how we reach our positions, as a society we can reach consensus around the issue of abortion. Anonymous (the other one) is right, abortion is not the only moral imperative in the debate, providing for and supporting children, women with children and women that are pregnant are intricately woven into the abortion issue and have moral implications as well.

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my life, I have had an abortion, a successful pregnancy, and a miscarriage. The latter was heart-rending, as it was a planned pregnancy. The abortion was due to failed birth control, which occurred when I was a freshman in college. No regrets.
All this pro-life stuff comes so much from males who will never experience an unplanned pregnancy, and from the women who stand behind these men, for whatever irrational reasons. It's almost always connected with religious beliefs, this "pro-life" stuff. And I think religious beliefs are irrational personal indulgences, and should be kept private, not inflicted upon those of us who would like a better less crowded world. Why aren't these people rescuing starving babies from all over the world? Could it be that it's because those babies aren't white?
This pro-life stuff is a blast from the past. It needs to be put to rest, along with lynchings, segregation, slavery, and a host of other quaint ideas.

6:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response to my original post LGND -..As I said in my original ( the 1st anonymous) post - I am a pro-life Democrat. But I'm more than that, as I believe I'm far more progressive (liberal) than most. I am anti-war and Anti Bush. I am also a practicing Roman Catholic that is anti-Death Penalty - donates almost 20% of my gross income to charities that provide services to low income families and children. I am a public servant that tries to embody the Democratic Party's values in my daily and Professional life and I work hard in everything I do to make sure our public policy makers fund essential services. For other posters, please do not say my views are disingenous or my faith is irrational - I recognize that my beliefs also come with responsibilities to makes sure all children are cared for and supported - and women facing unplanned or unwanted pregnancies have options that include a choice not to abort. If we can not have an open discussion of this issue and work toward the solution outlined by the LGND, we will never be able to take back the country from the Republicans!

7:41 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Anonymous--It is often people like you, that take great pains to understand and live your religious principles in a complete and honest way, that do most for those in need and that advocate for liberal causes and issues most loudly. That is exactly why this discussion is so important. We have been having this debate from the margins, between theocrats that want to control women through legislating a very specific religious morality and feminists who have had enough of being controlled. But that is not productive and is exactly why I think it's worthwhile to negotiate compromise amongst ourselves.

The Christian right in this country has done serious damage to our political discourse, aided and abetted by Republican lawmakers of course. This is why I think it is so important for people of faith to cut the religious right off at the knees. We have had this Fundamentalist jargon shoved in our faces for so long that it has sadly resulted in a blurring of the lines between the Fundamentalists that push a specific legislative agenda and people of faith that don't want any part of a theocratic state. This mingling of the two has been encouraged by the GOP in an effort to make their appeal seem more broad and in hopes of quashing any real productive dialogue. It's cynical politics and the public has bought into it lock, stock and barrel.

We're not talking about trying to reach consensus with the religious right that practice their faith in the most hypocritical way (supporting pre-emptive war, tax breaks for the wealthy while the poor get poorer, advocates for the death penalty while claiming they are "pro-life"), we're talking about reaching consensus with other liberals, progressives and Democrats that have honest and deeply felt convictions when it comes to abortion. Like I keep saying, that is a discussion worth having and I thank you Anonymous for sticking with this and engaging in that discussion.

8:19 PM  
Anonymous Payne said...

Being Pro-Life is a CHOICE. I do not see why folks the are allowed a CHOICE can't chose being against an abortion and feel that they don't support the pro- choice movement. I think the term Pro-Abortion, now tagged as the terms by Republicans and the khristain right misleads. I am 100 per cent Choice although for me abortion is a very low option- but my choice. Yours will be different.
Pro-Lifers, a term that casts doubt on the Choicers ideals, is just a single issue that solidifies a percentage of voters in any election.

BTW- where have all the real Conservatives gone? What a welcome their voice would be in these times of Government control. I think real Conservatives and Liberals meet on the back side of the circle. Call it civil liberties.

6:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Whether abortion is legal or not, abortions will still take place, they took place before it was explicitly made legal and they took place privately when they weren’t available openly."

This is about the stupidest statement that I have seen you make. This is a classic abortion supporter's talking point.
Then to try and say that if it is illegal more women are going to die. That is assine! How many of the 1.5 million a year of the abortions are potential future women. The choice of reprodutive rights end with the choice of unprotected sex. don't use the exscuse of rape & incest those are by far the exceptions.

Com'on That's like saying murder is illegal and it still happens, I guess we should make it legal.

A Pro-life Democrat and proud of it.

5:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An earlier poster said
"This pro-life stuff is a blast from the past. It needs to be put to rest, along with lynchings, segregation, slavery, and a host of other quaint ideas."

I'm not sure I have ever heard a comment so ironic. I would actually argue the opposite. Slavery was about people placing value on a life because of skin colors. Black people were seen as being "owned" by white. They were killed and tortured because society viewed them as "less than human". Abortion is the same way. This might be a shock to you, but a human baby comes out after pregnancy. It never comes out to be a couch or anything, so why do we jump around the issue, and have a problem saying "Baby"? It's because pro-choice groups have tried to turn a human baby into something that the mother "owns". Just because they are smaller and helpless does not mean that we can treat another human being as if they were less than worthy, less deserving of life. It is also discrimination based on the circumstances of conception. So, if well-off parents get pregnant, that baby gets to live, whereas, if the parents are poor, we judge that child to be worthless and a burden on society. This is ethically wrong. I really believe that if anyone really, really looks and researches abortion, eventually everyone will see the truth: Abortion is politically correct genocide, and our children will look at us in disgust and wonder how we as a society made babies our worst enemy. Also, this entire board seems to be dancing around the idea of personal responsibilty. ABORTION IS THE OPPOSITE OF RESPONSIBILITY. It makes someone else pay for your mistake. We all know what birth control is, and I don't believe that any woman does not understand how getting pregnant works. As a feminists, I am ashamed sometimes of my fellow women, acting like pregnancy is something that just happens to them. Give me a break.

1:00 PM  

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