An exterior view of the Time Warner Cable Arena during Day 1 of the Democratic… (Streeter Lecka / Getty Images )
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It might initially sound as oxymoronic as a pro-government libertarian, but a group of Democratic loyalists made the case here Tuesday that there really is such a thing as a “pro-life” Democrat and that their position is bolstered by the party’s social justice world view.
Two former members of Congress, a political scientist and a law professor made that case on a panel here, while also conceding that they are uncomfortable with some of President Obama’s abortion rights positions — like a Health and Human Services Department order that required employers to cover contraception and abortion as part of preventative care, regardless of religious beliefs.
The panelists nonetheless said the broader goal of reducing the number of abortions in the U.S. would be served far better by Democrats, who they said supported the kind of healthcare and social services that would persuade more pregnant women to go through with pregnancies that they did not intend.
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All four of the speakers are board members of Democrats for Life of America, which sponsored the panel at a hotel here at the scene of the Democratic National Convention.
They said massive cutbacks in social service programs like food stamps — anticipated by the Republican ticket of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan — would leave more women in desperate straits and anxious about expanding their families.
Three-quarters of women who get abortions cite their worry about not being able to afford a child as a leading reason, said law professor Thomas C. Berg, a member of the Democratic life group. The abortion rates in Holland and Germany are less than one-fourth that in the U.S. because women in those countries understand that their children will be cared for regardless of their mothers’ economic state, another panelist said.
Former Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper described how she relied on food stamps to support a child she had out of wedlock at 21. Without that kind of government support, she argued, it’s would be harder for other women to go ahead with unplanned pregnancies.
“The GOP … is driven by an anti government tea party inspired mind-set that is ill suited for pro-life goals,” said Stephen F. Schneck, a political scientist who is also on the board of Democrats for Life of America.
The panelists — including former U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak — conceded they have considerable work to do to make their importance known, not just to Republicans but to members of their own party.
Both Stupak, of Michigan, and Dahlkemper, of Pennsylvania, described how they had to fend off primary challenges from pro-abortion rights Democrats who were aided by powerful fundraising entities like Emily’s List.
Both of the former lawmakers argued that their party cannot win many House seats, particularly in heavily Catholic areas, without strong candidates who oppose abortion rights. The Democrats have been able to retain up to 186 seats in the House solely with members who support abortion rights, but it needs the “pro-life” contingent to reach a 218-seat majority, Stupak said.
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Stupak said he also has high hopes that over the next year the Obama administration will reverse the HHS regulation requiring workplace-provided healthcare coverage to include full abortion and contraceptive services even of employers that say it violates their religious beliefs.
“No individual or organization should be forced by government to set aside their deeply held religious convictions or abdicate their moral beliefs or deny one's conscience,” Stupak said. “That’s why I think it’s wrong.”
He and the others addressing delegates and the media here said the much bigger threat to push up the rate of abortion would be posed by Republican attempts to rescind Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Without the health reform, many more women would lose the pre-natal and post-natal care they count on and would feel unable to sustain a pregnancy — causing many to turn to abortion, Schneck said.
He said that a test case of this belief had already occurred in Massachusetts. Because of a healthcare reform pushed, ironically, by former governor Romney, women now get comprehensive health treatment in that state. The result, Schneck said, has been a 20% drop in the abortion rate for teenagers.
Something similar, he argued, can be expected once Obama’s national healthcare reform takes effect.
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