CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — Led by President Obama and Vice President Biden, the Democratic National Convention saw 25 speakers reference the party’s support for legal abortion, an average of eight speakers a night in what was the biggest emphasis on the issue since at least the 1992 convention.
It was a big change from recent Democratic conventions in which the party tried to downplay the issue. The 2004 Democratic nominee, John Kerry, didn’t even reference abortion in his acceptance speech, and Obama, in his 2008 acceptance speech, mentioned “abortion” but only in the context that the two sides should work together to reduce the “the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country.”
But 2012 was much different. Democrats, apparently believing the presidential race will be decided by which party’s base is more energized, promoted legalized abortion regularly. Several media outlets said it was the most abortion-centric Democratic convention since at least 1992, when Bill Clinton was first nominated.
Speakers, though, rarely mentioned the word “abortion,” preferring phrases or words such as “reproductive rights” and “choice.”
[[email protected]@120=Read our story on Obama’s speech here][/URL]Obama said he didn’t want government to “control health care choices that women should make for themselves.” Biden said he favored a “future where women control their own choices, health and destiny.” First Lady Michelle Obama said her husband believes women “are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care.”
Caroline Kennedy — President Kennedy’s daughter — gave one of the lengthier defenses of legal abortion.
“I take reproductive health seriously, and today, it is under attack,” Kennedy said. “This year alone, more than a dozen states have passed more than 40 restrictions on women’s access to reproductive health care. That’s not the kind of future I want for my daughters or your daughters. Now isn’t the time to roll back the rights we were winning when my father was president. Now is the time to move this country forward.”
Actress Kerry Washington referenced the “right to choose,” while Democratic Party chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz mentioned Obama’s support for “reproductive choices.” Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland simply said Obama’s health care law ensures that the “full range of reproductive services” is covered.
Even Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood — the nation’s largest abortion provider — discussed the issue without mentioning “abortion.” Instead, she said GOP nominee Mitt Romney favors overturning Roe v. Wade.
Though abortion was a major theme, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America (formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League), may have been the only speaker explicitly to say “abortion.”
“I am proud to say that the Democratic Party believes that women have the right to choose a safe, legal abortion with dignity and privacy,” Keenan said. “We believe in funding family planning because it helps to prevent unintended pregnancy. We believe that a woman considering an abortion should not be forced to have an ultrasound against her will.”
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, said she doesn’t understand why the party is promoting legal abortion to the exclusion of pro-life Democrats. Day had wanted an acknowledgment in the party’s platform that there are differences on the issue among Democrats. The platform committee, though, rejected that change.
“This is what the Democratic Party historically has fought for — the vulnerable, the needy and the unborn,” Day told San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra J. Saunders.
A Gallup survey in 2011 found that 32 percent of Democrats call themselves “pro-life.” Democrats supposedly are promoting legal abortion in an attempt to go after the female vote, but a Gallup poll this year showed that among all women voters — Democrats, Republicans and Independents — 46 percent call themselves pro-life, 44 percent pro-choice.
In 2008, Obama rarely mentioned abortion and even allowed Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (Pa.) — an abortion opponent — to address the convention. Casey said at that 2008 convention: “The fact that I am speaking here tonight is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect to the views of people who may disagree with him. … He’ll pursue the common good by seeking common ground rather than trying to divide us.”
Catholic blogger and writer Michael Sean Winters penned a Sept. 6 column for CNN.com, expressing disappointment in Obama’s 2012 tone.
“The president is re-litigating the culture wars he promised to salve in 2008,” Winters wrote.
The Obama campaign has referenced abortion in more TV ads this year than any major presidential candidate in history.
The convention’s emphasis on abortion came as delegates passed a platform that affirms the party’s support for legal abortion.
“The President and the Democratic Party believe that women have a right to control their reproductive choices,” it reads. “… The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”
It’s not explicit, but the “ability to pay” reference has long been interpreted by abortion rights groups as supporting tax-funded abortion. Likewise, the language opposing “efforts to weaken” abortion rights has been viewed as opposing any restrictions on it — such as bans on partial-birth abortion or laws that require minors to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).