Complexities of US abortion debate weigh on Democrats
Updated: 2012-09-08 08:23
By Chen Weihua in Charlotte, North Carolina (China Daily)
Outside one of the main sites of this week's Democratic Party Convention, several people were holding placards with graphic photos of aborted human fetuses.
The protesters - mostly men - shouted at delegates and others entering the Charlotte Convention Center, accusing Democrats of infanticide.
As they passed, some of the party faithful shouted back blunt replies, while a few stopped to debate the always-controversial subject of abortion with the demonstrators.
The Democratic Party's national platform for 2012 made public on Monday, its long-held view that women have the right to control their reproductive choices, expressing support for access to affordable family-planning services, while vowing to continue opposition to Republican efforts to strip state and federal funding for healthcare provided by the organization Planned Parenthood.
On Tuesday night, first lady Michelle Obama and a series of earlier speakers made clear their party's belief that women have the right to choose.
"Pro-choice" is a phrase long associated with Democrats. Their foes in the anti-abortion movement, which prefers to be called "pro-life", have long gravitated to the Republican Party.
The stance adopted last week at the Republican National Convention in Florida calls for an amendment to the US Constitution that would protect "human life".
It doesn't state whether exceptions should be allowed in cases of rape and incest.
Just a few blocks from the bustling convention center, a group of Democratic loyalists spoke at a forum on Tuesday about the importance of being "pro-life".
They cited increasing support for broader platform discussion on abortion.
Kathy Dahlkemper, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who served one term in the House of Representatives before losing to a Republican in 2010, told China Daily that she opposes abortion and wants to see the number of abortions reduced significantly.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which is affiliated with Planned Parenthood, 1.21 million abortions were performed in the United States in 2008, down from 1.29 million in 2002.
Dahlkemper, while pointing out that the stance in her party's platform is at odds with her own, criticized Republicans for clamoring to cut government-aid programs that help many low-income American women overcome circumstances that often lead to abortion.
She believes the abortion debate is being used by both parties for political benefit.
"The party structure keeps this issue going because of its ability to raise funds. It's a wedge issue in our political spectrum."
Although she sometimes feels alienated within her party, Dahlkemper said she wants to remain a Democrat because she agrees with policies that favor government funding for postnatal care, general healthcare and education.
"We think it's easier to change the Democratic Party on this one issue rather than change the Republican Party on a host of other issues," said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, which describes itself as "the pro-life voice and wing of the Democratic Party".
Day said her group's view is broader than the standard conservative definition of "pro-life".
"The conservatives just want to overturn Roe v Wade - that's their main mission," she said, referring to the 1973 US Supreme Court decision that guarantees legal abortion.
"I would love to do it, too, but they are not addressing the root problems of why women choose abortion, and we really need to get to those issues."
There are 23 million Democrats who identify themselves as "pro-life," the organization claims.
Carol Stahl, a Democrat from Montana, said she doesn't know any anti-abortion Democrats, but believes there are some, just as there are pro-choice Republicans.
Diane Green, a convention delegate from New York City, believes it's wrong for the government to have control over a woman's body.
"It's very harmful, especially to low-income people. Rich people will always have choice. They can buy it, and their children can go anywhere they want for any form of healthcare," she said.
"But low-income people need to use a local doctor. If the doctor is restricted by law, it's a big problem. That's taking away civil rights," said Green, who is black.
A Gallup poll in May found that the number of Americans who identify themselves as "pro-choice" dropped to 41 percent from 47 in July 2011, while half of Americans identify themselves as "pro-life".
A national survey by the Public Religion Research Institute last year showed that when people aren't forced to declare one position or the other, about 43 percent said they are both "pro-choice" and "pro-life".
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(China Daily 09/08/2012 page6)