Democrats for Life’s push to reform party plank on abortion rights

August 18, 2012

We've paid a lot of attention to the Democrats' backing of gay marriage in a draft platform. What's got less notice was another social issues petition put to the party, one from Democrats for Life of America, to reform the party's stance on abortion rights.

While it looks unlikely to make the final document, it's notable that this year's push to widen the party's stance on a hot-button issue has so far gotten significantly further than it has in years past.

The group proposed language to the Democratic drafting platform last month that would have had the party "welcome into our ranks all Americans who may hold differing positions" on the abortion issue. It would also add a paragraph on finding "common ground" solutions to reduce unintended pregnancies.

The case that Democrats for Life makes is this: About a third of those who identify as Democrats also identify as pro-life. That number grew, between 2011 and 2007, by 7 percent.

Pro-life democrats account for a sizable number of the party's seats in the House of Representatives, albeit fewer than a few decades ago. Still, there are enough pro-life Democrats to sway the shape of the legislative debate on abortion issues, a fact that became apparent when the debate over health reform came down to an abortion rights issue.

Democrats for Life make the case with this chart below that, without the party's pro-life members (many of whom lost seats in 2010), it's really hard for the party to hold a majority in the House.

The language that Democrats for life proposed wouldn't exactly be unfamiliar to the platform. It was only in 1976 that Democrats even took a platform stance on abortion rights. As recently as 2000, there was a paragraph that read: "We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party."

That paragraph was taken out in a redrafting of the platform in 2004. This year marked the first time that Democrats for Life testified before the platform committee in more than a decade, says Executive Director Kristen Day. They wanted to, in 2008, but were not given the opportunity.

"It's encouraging," she said. "We have a long history of people being denied the opportunity to do this. It's always been a big fight to even talk about this."

Right now, though, it looks unlikely that the Democratic platform will come out in their favor: A draft released yesterday did not include the pro-life group's proposed language. Melinda Henneberger points out that NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan sits on the platform committee, and that could prove a significant obstacle.

Democrats for Life haven't given up quite yet: They will be at the party convention in September, making the case for widening the platform.

“For the good of the Democratic Party, we will continue to advocate that the platform language should reflect the true diversity of views within the Democratic Party,” Day says.

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Dylan Matthews · August 18, 2012