Because I have been a contributor to the Democratic Party for all of my adult life, I receive one or two pieces of fund-raising literature a day from Hillary Clinton and James Carville, from Tom Daschle and Ted Kennedy, from John Kerry's campaign and the DNC. This mail, with few exceptions promote the party's support for "choice." Never mind that we can't bring ourselves to say what the choice is we are supporting.
The question is will the Democratic Party learn from its 2000 and 2002 losses or continue to support unrestricted abortion rights?
Since 1993 only seven states, plus the District of Columbia, have seen growth in the number of people who identify themselves as Democrats. By contrast, 41 states have seen Republican gains (Gallup 2003). Yet despite increasing support for restrictions on abortion, the Democratic Party continues to advocate for an increasingly smaller minority who favor abortion on demand, no matter what the circumstance.
We can safely say that when somebody is for something no matter what the circumstance, this can be called an "extremist position." And no matter how conflicted the public is on Roe v. Wade, they are not conflicted over wanting to go beyond that. Measures that are allowed under the constitution, like parental consent, women's right-to-know legislation, clinic regulations, are aggressively opposed by Planned Parenthood and their Democratic state and congressional lackeys. And in January of this year, Kate Michelman with Democratic leaders in tow, even announced a bill that would invalidate state and federal regulations on abortion, restrictions that are allowed under the Constitution.
A 2003 poll sponsored by EMILY's List, the pro-choice PAC for Democratic women candidates, revealed that women are almost as likely to back President Bush as they are one of the Democratic presidential candidates. This is a far cry from 1996, when Bill Clinton defeated Bob Dole by 16 percentage points among women voters.
In addition to women, other major Democratic constituent groups support abortion restrictions. Sixty-two percent of African-Americans and 78% of Hispanics back greater restrictions, as do 65% of people making less than $20,000 (Gallup 2002, Zogby 2003). Although it may not be surprising that, according to a Zogby Poll released in January 2004, 68% of Republicans believe abortion is "manslaughter." But what is surprising is that 43% of Democrats agreed.
Despite enormous amounts of money being poured into pro-choice PACs, for example EMILY's List with $33 million, we Democrats still didn't win in 2002. Instead of money going toward showcasing our party's candidates positions for universal health care, for peaceful solutions to the Iraq war, or for safeguarding the environment, we consume millions of dollars promoting the abortion "choice." The party's plank of "the right to choose" has really become our "right to lose."
But a bright yellow half-sheet in a recent piece of campaign literature differed with me. It touted the special election win of Ben Chandler in Kentucky as the sign of a Democratic Party comeback. It has touted the win of Stephanie Herseth in South Dakota and the nomination of Bill Gluba for Congress in Iowa. But one thing not mentioned in the fine print, is that these candidates support restrictions and regulations on abortion. Chandler and Gluba actually ran and won on a pro-life plank.
Columnist Mark Shields put it this way: "What has to worry Democrats, who for the first time in nearly 17 months see George Bush's politically vulnerable, is that their potential nominee will -- by compulsive constituency coddling of the variety shown at NARAL -- forfeit any chance of winning in November 2004." (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 1/25/2003)
Many grassroots Democrats want to prevent the Democratic Party from doing the wrong thing better and to plug the hemorrhaging of good people from the party. Nine states have started chapters of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). They are Massachusetts, Ohio, California, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New York, Texas and Florida. Twenty-three more states are in the process of forming chapters.
Let's be honest. Winning can't be everything. For instance DFLA also opposes capital punishment, even if we lose a few votes because of it. But is standing for unrestricted abortion rights a principled position? In the 1840s and '50s, Democrats were on the pro-choice side of another greater moral issue of the day -- slavery. The collective conscience of the people voted for Republican Abraham Lincoln. This was a history lesson in the politics of pragmatics as well as principle. With few exceptions, Democrats continued to lose control of the White House and Congress until the election of Roosevelt in 1932.
Since then we have proudly been the party with a more expansive interpretation of human rights -- workers' rights, women's rights, and the rights of the poor. It is a tragic irony that now the party of the vulnerable supports the unrestricted destruction of another vulnerable class of human beings.
The Palm Beach Post reported June 21 that Joy Hearn, candidate for a Democratic property appraiser post in Florida was asked by Democratic Party members to remove her "Choose Life" license plate while she was running for office. This is the party of "the big tent"? Is this the party of "tolerance" or a circular firing squad reducing us to single-issue, litmus-test voters, something we have called Republicans for years.
Meanwhile, the issues we Democrats care about will lose because our candidates are going to lose. It's time we stood up to the absolutist pro-choice special-interest groups and say "No thanks" to their special interest money. It won't buy our consciences. It won't even buy many elections.
Carol Crossed of Rochester, N.Y., is president of Democrats for Life of America (democratsforlife.org); phone 703-281-3781; email firstname.lastname@example.org.