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.