CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BP) — Democrats spotlighted their support for legalized abortion Tuesday night at their convention, with at least 10 speakers — including First Lady Michelle Obama — trumpeting the issue, although the word “abortion” itself was rarely said.
It was the most abortion rights-centric night for a Democratic convention since 1992, according to NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and the issue was referenced every hour, from 6 p.m. Eastern to the final hour of the night beginning at 10 p.m.
“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,” said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly the National Abortion Rights Action League. “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.”
Keenan may have been the only speaker to explicitly mention “abortion.” Other speakers used coded language to convey their message. For instance, the first lady, referencing her husband, said, “He believes that women are more than capable of making our own choices about our bodies and our health care…. That’s what my husband stands for.”
Similarly, the president’s sister, Maya Soetoro-ng, said of her brother, “He’s worked to guarantee women equal pay for equal work and the freedom to make our own decisions about our health.”
The abortion rights theme was meant to draw a contrast with Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who is pro-life.
Keenan warned, “We are proud to have a president who stands with women and who trusts women…. We cannot trust Mitt Romney to respect our rights. He would overturn Roe vs. Wade and sign into law a wave of outrageous restrictions on a woman’s ability to make decisions about her pregnancy.”
U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee of California simply said that Romney would “interfere with women’s health care decisions.”
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick told the audience, “We believe that freedom means keeping government out of our most private affairs, including out of a woman’s decision whether to keep an unwanted pregnancy and everybody’s decision about whom to marry.”
Patrick was referencing gay marriage — another theme of the night. Including Patrick, at least six speakers mentioned the president’s and the party’s landmark support for gay marriage, although much of it did not reference the word “gay” or even the phrase “same-sex.”
Keynote speaker Julian Castro, the mayor of San Antonio, said, “When it comes to letting people marry whomever they love, Mitt Romney says, ‘No!'”
Michelle Obama did not even use the word “marriage,” saying, “Barack knows the American Dream because he’s lived it, and he wants everyone in this country to have that same opportunity, no matter who we are, or where we’re from, or what we look like, or who we love.” Later, she went a step further: “If proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love ….”
NBC News’ political team said the Democratic Party is spotlighting abortion rights to attract female voters.
“But that strategy also carries the potential risk of alienating Democratic voters who might oppose abortion rights,” the political team wrote in its First Thoughts webpage at NBCNews.com. “This strategy may work in the Nevadas, Colorados and Virginias but in the heavier Catholic states, like Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio?”
A May Gallup poll found 50 percent of Americans consider themselves pro-life, 41 percent pro-choice. Among women, 46 percent call themselves pro-life, 44 percent pro-choice.
The convention’s emphasis on abortion came the same day 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.
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has referenced abortion in TV ads more this year than any major presidential candidate in history.
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).