expanding the tent

SOMEBODY FOUND SOME MOXIE….Wow. I sat up when I read this in Newsweek: When John Kerry stopped by a meeting of the liberal 527 America Votes two weeks ago, EMILY’s List president Ellen Malcolm asked him about the future of the Democratic Party. Kerry “told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they didn’t like abortion. Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party, he said.”

Standing up and saying that to the head of the pro-choice group that holds the biggest purse strings for the party takes some guts. (Not as many guts as it would have taken to say it during the election, but these are baby steps.)

What’s more, Kerry is right. And before you start spamming me with hate mail, listen up. No one is suggesting that the Democratic Party change its platform or abandon the pro-choice cause or become, as one congresswoman mischaracterized Kerry’s advice, “fake Republicans.” That would be stupid and, even worse, wrong.

But it’s long past time for the Democratic Party to realize that they continue to lose voters who aren’t one-issue abortion voters but who feel unwelcome in the party because of their beliefs. Rhetoric that verges on being pro-abortion rankles even pro-choice Democrats like me. (For a nice summary of my thoughts, read this excellent piece by Sarah Blustain.) Parents who are uneasy about parental notification laws don’t have rocks in their heads–they have to sign permission slips so the school nurse can give their kids Tylenol and they’re not wild about the idea of that same kid getting an abortion without their knowledge. I’m not saying Democrats should back down from protecting girls in extraordinary circumstances who need to get abortions on their own. But they don’t need to frame the argument in a way that implies that those who disagree with them are stone-age misogynists.

If Democrats can change the perception that they are pro-abortion, they will finally be free to go on the offensive. A majority of Americans believes that abortion shouldn’t be illegal, but also shouldn’t be completely unrestricted. These are people who just want to see fewer abortions taking place. Guess what? So do most Democrats–that’s just not how they talk about it. A Democratic candidate should never find him- or herself arguing about who believes in a phrase like “the culture of life”; they should debate who actually does more to reduce abortion rates. Over the past few decades, abortion rates have gone up during Republican administrations and down during Democratic ones. Teen pregnancies (and abortions) have plummeted by one-third over the past decade due to a mixture of liberal and conservative policies related to contraception availability and informed abstinence promotion. Democrats have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to their record of protecting life. But no one is going to listen to them if they’re too busy chanting “I’m not sorry”.

At the same time, I’d like to have a word with the pro-lifers: I don’t ever again want to hear about the supposed muzzling of Governor Casey in 1992 and how that is proof for all of time of Democratic disdain for pro-lifers. Democrats have just elected Harry Reid, staunch pro-lifer, to lead their party in the Senate, for crying out loud. He’s so conservative on this issue that he voted against a bipartisan abortion compromise sponsored by Daschle in the 1990s. If that’s still not good enough for you, come back to me when Olympia Snowe is elected Republican Leader and then we can talk about which party is more inclusive.

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