Michael Wear: “Democrats Shouldn’t Be So Certain About Abortion”

abortion

When it comes to abortion politics, Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and member of Obama’s faith-based initiative team, is one of our most important voices.  His piece in today’s New York Times is one of the best things I have read on the subject.  Here is a taste:

According to some progressives, Democrats need to learn from Mr. Trump’s style of politics and name enemies, draw harder lines and callously stoke the animosities that roil Americans’ lives for partisan advantage.

This emulation of Mr. Trump’s flattening of our political discourse to its extremes is evident in many areas, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than on abortion. There were several examples of this just in the last month.

In the first presidential debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked if there was any restriction on abortion she supported; she could not name one, and no other candidate on the stage tried to either. Joe Biden was berated by his Democratic competitors and others for his previous support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, and announced that he would now oppose it. And yet a Politico/Morning Consult poll from June showed that slightly more Democratic women support the Hyde Amendment (at 41 percent) than oppose it (at 39 percent). Overall, 49 percent of registered voters support Hyde, compared with 32 percent who oppose it. It is not so much that Mr. Biden was out of step with the Democratic electorate, but that the 2020 Democratic candidates are out of step with American voters, even Democratic voters, on the issue of abortion.

Read the entire piece here.

How Biden Can Separate Himself (Even Further) From the Pack Tonight

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I still stand by my belief that Joe Biden has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in 2020.  He is going to get hammered in these Democratic debates and the coming primaries, but if he can survive, and not screw things up, he can be the next president.

I was not overly impressed by anyone in last night’s debate.  Elizabeth Warren won the first half of the debate, but she seemed to fade toward the end.  Nevertheless, I think she controlled the stage and was clearly the overall winner.  Julian Castro did very well.  His team can build on his performance.  As I said to my daughter last night, I still don’t understand why Cory Booker is not polling higher.  I felt bad for Beto O’Rourke.  He did not look well last night.  I was wondering if he had the flu.  He looked pale and his eyes were very red and watery.  I like Amy Klobuchar, but Biden will take all of her potential votes.

I was struck by the question on abortion.  Every candidate on the stage upheld the Party line.  Here is Emma Green at The Atlantic:

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates see abortion as a winning issue in the next election. That was clear from the first night of the party’s primary debates, where the politicians onstage vied to show how emphatically they support abortion rights. The candidates focused on fear: of the state-level abortion bans recently passed in places such as Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia; of the threat to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Multiple candidates affirmed their support for expansive abortion rights, citing widespread support among Americans.

The candidates also conveniently avoided the most controversial and contested aspects of abortion policy, including limits on the procedure at any point in a pregnancy. Whether this dodge was intentional or the natural outcome of a quick-paced debate, it stood in contrast to one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, when Hillary Clinton endorsed abortion through the end of the third trimester of a pregnancy. So far this cycle, Democrats have been running to embrace the abortion-rights positions that poll well with voters, and steering clear of tougher questions. In reality, however, these nitpicky questions about abortion limits matter: These are the policy areas where most abortion fights actually happen at the federal level.

Green correctly concludes: “Democrats are clearly willing to promote their party’s support for abortion rights; none of the nearly two dozen candidates has tried to use moderation on abortion to his or her advantage.”

Read her entire piece here.

Let’s see what happens tonight.  As many know, Biden has raised serious questions about federal funding for abortion, but he caves whenever he is pressured by other candidates.  What if Biden takes the opportunity tonight to provide a nuanced view on abortion by saying something about how he wants to reduce the number of abortions in the United States? He can do this without flip-flopping again on the Hyde Amendment or undermining Roe v. Wade.  If Biden takes this route, he will probably be the only candidate willing to make a break–however subtle–with the Party line.  I am not optimistic that Biden and his team will go this route, but I do know that most Democrats here in Pennsylvania would welcome such a move.

Biden Caves on the Hyde Amendment

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Princeton’s Robert George was right:

Biden, in a speech tonight in Atlanta, claimed that he is opposed to the Hyde Amendment.

Here is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday he no longer supports a controversial ban that blocked the use of federal funds for some abortions, reversing a position that put him at odds with many Democrats.

The White House hopeful said at a national party fundraiser in Atlanta that anti-abortion measures adopted in Georgia and other states are a sign that Republicans are going to continue to push for more aggressive restrictions. 

Read the entire piece here.

Joe Biden on Abortion

Biden ad

Emma Green is back with a piece on Joe Biden’s view on abortion.  He supports the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortions through Medicaid.  Yet last night one of his campaign directors claimed that he was supportive of Roe v. Wade.  As I tweeted:

Here is a taste of Green’s piece at The Atlantic:

…he still supports the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old ban on federal funding for most abortions through programs such as Medicaid. As a senator, Biden voted repeatedly to keep this ban in place; in the 1990s, as NBC reported, he wrote a letter to constituents affirming that Americans who oppose abortions should not have to pay for them. The other leading 2020 Democratic candidates have taken the opposite stance, calling for Hyde to be repealed, along with other expansions of abortion rights. Perhaps in response to the Democratic field’s move to the left, Biden has recently indicated that he might be willing to protect abortion rights with federal legislation.

While most voters likely do not recognize the term “Hyde Amendment,” the issue of using tax dollars to pay for abortion is fairly clear-cut. Even people who support legal abortion, including Democrats, may not believe the federal government should be paying for it. Biden’s continued support for a ban on federal funding for abortion sends a different message: This is the moderate Democrat who voters have known for decades. Abortion-rights advocacy groups are already calling out Biden’s position on Hyde, but unlike other 2020 Democrats, he is not prioritizing to those groups’ causes. In part by emphasizing his fight for “the soul of the nation,” as he has put it, over and above divisive social issues, Biden is making a bet that he can appeal to the widest range of voters in a 2020 general election.

Frankly, I would like to see Biden define himself as a pro-life Democrat.  As I have argued before, it is the most consistent position for a party that claims to care about the weakest and most vulnerable human beings in society.

And by the way, it is also possible to be pro-life and pro-women’s rights.  I am with Jimmy Carter on this.

What Will Future Historians Say About Abortion?

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I hate the term “right side” and “wrong side” of history.  No historian should use these phrases. They are moral, not historical, phrases.  When people use them they are usually saying more about their own politics or religion than the patterns of history.  When Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he was making a theological statement.  It is a theological statement that I affirm because I am a Christian who hopes in a coming Kingdom where justice will prevail, and not because I wholeheartedly embrace the Enlightenment idea of progress.

Historians know that the story of humanity does not always bend toward justice.  Usually those who reference the right and wrong sides of history have a political axe to grind.  Historians, of course, are not prophets.  We cannot predict the direction history will move.  Christian historians should have eschatological hope, but we cannot pretend to claim that we know all that God is doing.  This is why we talk about humility and mystery.  We see through a glass darkly.

In her recent piece on abortion at VOX, evangelical feminist Karen Swallow Prior does not use the phrase “right side of history” or “wrong side of history,” but she does invoke a kind of ethical trajectory–a teleology if you will– that is born out of her Christian convictions and her belief in moral progress.  As a historian, I am trained to treat her predictions with caution.  As a Christian who believes we must reduce the number of abortions in the United States, I say let’s hope she is correct.

Here is a taste of her piece, “Abortion Will Be Considered Unthinkable 50 Years from Now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that abortion hit its lowest rate since Roe v. Wade11.8 per 1,000 women ages 15-44, a dramatic decline from a peak in the early 1980s that approached 30 per 1,000 women. It’s unclear whether this decrease is owing to increased use of contraceptives; delayed sexual activity among young people; the declining number of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a growing inability to deny — thanks to ultrasound technology, prenatal surgical interventions, and extravagant gender reveal parties — the insuppressible personality of the child in the womb; or a combination of all these factors.

Whatever the cause, however, abortion is becoming less necessary and less desirable. Recent attempts in several states to expand access to late-term abortions in anticipation of the possible overturning of Roe not only violate the view of the majority (who support greater restrictions after the first trimester) but will be seen by future generations as a last, desperate show of stubbornness in the face of human progress.

Every age has its blinders, constructed, usually, through a combination of ignorance and self-interest. Many things such as bloodletting and wet nurses that are seen as good or indispensable in one age are unthinkable in another.

Our modern-day willingness to settle for sex apart from commitment, to accept the dereliction of duty by men who impregnate women (for men are the primary beneficiaries of liberal abortion laws), and to uphold the systematic suppression of sex’s creative energy and function are practices that people of other ages would have considered bizarre. As we enter late modernity and recognize the limits of the radical autonomy and individualism which have defined it, the pendulum will correct itself with a swing toward more communitarian and humane values that recognize the interdependency of all humans.

When we do, we will look back at elective abortion and wonder — as we do now with polluting and smoking — why we so wholeheartedly embraced it. We will look at those ultrasound images of 11-week old fetuses somersaulting in the waters of the womb and lack words to explain to our grandchildren why we ever defended their willful destruction in the name of personal choice and why we harmed so many women to do so.

Read the entire piece here.

This reminds me of what I wrote earlier this week about Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that the Democratic Party change its views on abortion:

I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:

  1. They do not want to be ostracized by the Democratic Party.
  2. They are afraid that if they defend the unborn they will be accused of not caring about women’s rights.  (This, I believe, is a false dichotomy).
  3. They do not want to be associated with the divisive and unhelpful “baby-killing” culture war rhetoric of the Right.
  4. They do not endorse the Christian Right/GOP playbook that teaches the only way to reduce abortions is to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

Jimmy Carter: Democrats Should Change Their Position on Abortion

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Jimmy Carter teaching Sunday School

Jimmy Carter appeared on radio show of conservative pundit Laura Ingraham recently.  Here is what he said about the Democratic Party’s position on abortion:

“I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions and that was one of the problems I had when I was president having to uphold Roe v. Wade and I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I made it easy to adopt children for instance who were unwanted and also initiated the program called Women and Infant Children or WIC program that’s still in existence now. But except for the times when a mother’s life is in danger or when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest I would certainly not or never have approved of any abortions.”

“I’ve signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue.”

Life News has context.

I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:

  1. They do not want to be ostracized by the Democratic Party.
  2. They are afraid that if they defend the unborn they will be accused of not caring about women’s rights.  (This, I believe, is a false dichotomy).
  3. They do not want to be associated with the divisive and unhelpful “baby-killing” culture war rhetoric of the Right.
  4. They do not endorse the Christian Right/GOP playbook that teaches the only way to reduce abortions is to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

Secular Pro-Lifers

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Check out David Mills’s piece at Aleteia.  There are secular pro-lifers who are pro-life based on “left-wing” ideas.

Here is a taste:

For example: A few days before the conference, I saw on Medium a post by someone who called himself “your stereotypical leftie.” He explained his rejection of the movement to repeal Ireland’s pro-life eighth amendmentof its constitution. Against most of his leftwing peers, he calls himself “unashamedly pro-life; a conviction that is not based on any religious dogma, but science.” The child is a human being from the moment of conception. That is “irrefutable fact.” (Here, fyi, is the Irish Republican organization supporting the eighth amendment. For those who don’t know, Irish Republicanism is pretty much the opposite of our Republicanism.)

The Irishman argues that his position more authentically upholds left-wing commitments than the pro-abortionists’. He describes abortion “as a far-right concept, intended to remove those from society deemed to be unworthy, in this case working-class children and children with disabilities.” What, he asks, “could be more misogynistic than sex-selective abortions that almost exclusively target unborn female children? And what could be more bigoted than the disproportionately high amount of Black and Latino children aborted in US clinics?”

A few years ago, a writer in the leftist journal New Statesman made the same argument. The slogan “My body, my life, my choice,” writes Mehdi Hasan, had “always left me perplexed. Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?”

He doesn’t believe this because he’s Muslim, he says. “To be honest, I would be opposed to abortion even if I were to lose my faith. I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a ‘person.’”

Read the entire piece here.

Democratic Party Will Fund Pro-Life Candidates

williamsIt makes perfect sense.  The Democrats have long been the party of the weak and vulnerable.  For most of the twentieth century it was the anti-abortion party.  Is the Party’s decision to reject a pro-choice litmus test a return to its roots?  I highly doubt it.  This is a strategy for winning back Congress.  Whatever the case, I applaud the move.

 

Kate Shellnut reports at Christianity Today:

Representative Ben Ray Luján, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said yesterday that the party has “no litmus test” on abortion and won’t withhold financial backing from pro-life candidates in the 2018 mid-term elections, The Hill reported.

His remarks came a week after the party released a new set of policy plans and goals that push economic concerns and don’t mention abortion at all.

As Luján looks to a “broad coalition” to shift control of the US House of Representatives away from the Republican Party, core supporters within his own party are questioning the move away from a firm pro-choice stance.

Will the potential of luring voters who have avoided the party over the issue of abortion be worth the backlash from the Democratic base, including outspoken abortion-rights advocates?

Read the entire piece here.

I am reminded of this passage from Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas:

Take for instance the political issue of abortion, which some Christians cited as their reason for voting for candidate Trump. When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

Interested in the history of the pro-life movement?  Check out our interview with historian Daniel K. Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Are Democrats Rethinking “Abortion Orthodoxy?”

 

Charles Camosy, a theologian at Fordham University, thinks we could see some change on this front.

Here is a taste of his piece at Crux:

Stories about how badly the Democratic Party has performed in recent years have been so prevalent they hardly bear mentioning.

The coalition put together by Franklin Roosevelt appears to be on its last legs, hemorrhaging an astonishing 1000 legislative seats since 2008. There are now only four U.S. states with a Democratic governor and legislature. Remarkably, the party has approval ratings comparable to that of Donald Trump.

The explanation for this sorry state of affairs is complex, but a big part of it comes from the enforcement of a coastal moral and political orthodoxy that has dramatically shrunk the party in the Midwest and South. This has been particularly true when it comes to abortion policy.

Indeed, when Democrats had a big tent on the most divisive issue of our time, welcoming the one-in-three members of the party who identify as pro-life, it turns out that they actually won majorities. In 2005, for example, then-DNC chair Governor Howard Dean beautifully executed a 50-state strategy in which the party supported pro-life Democrats who could beat Republicans in battleground districts.

This strategy netted, among other things, the seats necessary to pass the Affordable Care Act, the most important piece of Democratic legislation passed in two generations. Let’s be clear about this remarkable and under-reported fact: without pro-life Democrats, the legislation that has forever changed how American culture thinks about its duty to the most vulnerable would not have passed.

In 2009, however, the 50-state strategy went away, replaced with the simplistic abortion orthodoxy of coastal elites. And with it went the Democratic majority. Tellingly, 88 percent of seats formerly occupied by the pro-life Democrats who supported the ACA are now in Republican hands.

Trump’s stunning victories in formerly blue states in the Midwest, subsequent losses in special elections, and the real threat of losing the ACA have caused some rethinking of abortion orthodoxy in the party.

Democrat James Thompson, for instance, ran for a special election seat in Kansas this past April. He cut Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton by 75 percent, but was unable to get over the hump. In a Think Progress interview, Thompson blamed his loss on pro-life activists who were able to tie him to the current Democratic platform which insists that abortion for any reason-including sex-selection-should not only be legal, but paid for by pro-lifers with their tax dollars.

Read the rest here.  The Atlantic covers this issue here.

As I argued here, a pro-life position on abortion is perfectly compatible with the historic Democratic Party’s commitment to the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Watch Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr. of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African American denomination in the country, connects the Pro-Life movement to Black Lives Matter: