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Pro-life Democrats find some hope in abortion-rights party

WASHINGTON (BP)–Their party’s platform committee and convention delegates treated them like, well, Republicans, but some pro-life Democrats still found reason for hope in Boston.

“It’s so surprising how much positive response we received,” Kristen Day told Baptist Press the week after the Democratic National Convention.

The executive director of Democrats for Life of America saw encouraging signs. DFLA sponsored a pro-life rally, and allies and some adversaries within the party commented favorably on their presence, she said.

There remained no question, however, about her party’s allegiance to abortion rights. The convention nominated Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards, possessors of voting records solidly against restrictions on abortion. With one exception, no pro-life messages were voiced in prime time from the podium. The convention approved a platform less tolerant of pro-lifers than the 2000 version.

In fact, the new platform approved by delegates not only supported “a woman’s right to choose, consistent with Roe v. Wade, and regardless of her ability to pay.” It also said, “We stand firmly against Republican efforts to undermine that right.”

That sentence befuddled pro-life Democrats, Day said.

“We are proudly pro-life and proud Democrats,” she said before the convention. “But given we are 100 percent committed to protecting the rights of the unborn, are we now considered Republicans in the eyes of the platform committee?”

After the convention, Day told BP, “The platform language is definitely disturbing.” The platform committee was out of step with both the American public and Democrats, she said. Day also could have said the convention’s delegates were out of step with Democrats.

A Zogby International poll in January showed 43 percent of Democrats opposed most or all abortions, according to LifeNews.com. A CBS News/New York Times survey of this year’s Democratic delegates, however, found nearly twice as many delegates as Democratic voters believe abortion should be allowed in all cases.

Because of the platform, the Kerry-Edwards ticket and the preponderance of Democratic candidates, at least some pro-lifers in the party will choose conviction on abortion over party affiliation.

“When people go into the voting booth, they should vote their conscience,” Day told BP. “A lot of our members do vote pro-life down the line, for Republicans and Democrats.

“The Democratic Party has to re-look at where we are going. If we’re going to be a majority party,” Democrats cannot be captives of the abortion-rights lobby, she said.

Two DFLA advisory board members, Reps. James Oberstar of Minnesota and Bart Stupak of Michigan, made that point to Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe in March. They showed him the following statistics, according to syndicated columnist Nat Hentoff, that revealed the party’s hold on Congress declined in proportion to the departure of pro-life voters.

In the 1977-78 Congress, Democrats possessed a majority of 292 seats, which included 125 pro-lifers. In March of this year, Democrats held just 204 of 435 seats, with only 28 pro-lifers.

Oberstar and Stupak told McAuliffe pro-life Democrats could win Republican-leaning races this year in some congressional districts, Hentoff wrote.

An acknowledgment of this disconnect between voters, including many Democrats, and the party leadership probably is reflected in the lack of prime-time promotion of abortion in Boston. In his acceptance speech, Kerry did not mention the issue directly.

“The fact that they aren’t talking about it shows pro-life Democrats are having [an impact],” Day said. It also undoubtedly shows the Kerry-Edwards campaign knows it needs the votes of undecided Americans who don’t back the abortion advocacy of the Democratic platform.

While she says the DLFA has “to look to the future,” Day points to the “positive movement” she has seen in recent years. The DLFA was founded in 1999 and now has 32 state chapters. Nine members of Congress are on its advisory board.

Day started the Washington office of DFLA two and a half years ago after serving as chief of staff for Rep. James Barcia of Michigan. Barcia had been co-chairman of the House of Representatives Pro-life Caucus.

“When I opened the office,” Day said, “we couldn’t get our phone calls to the Democratic National Committee returned.”

The DNC’s McAuliffe met with DFLA members in March, and Kerry sent the organization a letter saying he wanted it to continue to bring up the issue, Day said.

“We hope to set up a meeting with Sen. Kerry” before the election, she said. The DFLA especially wants to try to convince Kerry, if elected, not to rescind the current pro-life policies regarding international family planning, she said.

“We want to make sure we have his ear if he is elected,” Day said.