Why Democrats Are Pro-Choice, Not Pro-Abortion

They know life doesn’t fit neatly into oversimplified ideological boxes

Zeroing in on a speech given at the Republican National Convention by anti-abortion activist Abby Johnson, National Review Staff Writer Alexandra DeSanctis claims that Democrats don’t want to talk about abortion, while the GOP has made it a centerpiece of their agenda. She suggests that no one at the Democratic National Convention uttered the word “abortion” because the party is trying to avoid the topic.

It’s true that Democrats don’t focus on the word “abortion.” While welcoming a diversity of views on the topic, the one thing they agree on is that the decision should be between a woman and her doctor. In other words, Democrats are “pro-choice” rather than “pro-abortion.” The section of the party’s platform that addresses this issue is titled, Securing Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice. Notice that the word “abortion” isn’t included. It comes up only once in the text:

Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion…Democrats oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to reproductive health and rights…We believe that a person’s health should always come first. Democrats will protect the rights of all people to make personal health care decisions.

There are a few things that DeSanctis didn’t want to talk about. First of all, she skipped over some of the controversy surrounding Abby Johnson, the anti-legal abortion activist who spoke at the RNC. DeSanctis wrote that most reports about Johnson’s speech at the RNC “dredged up her controversial comments on other subjects.” That’s an understatement. Johnson’s suggestion that married women should lose their right to vote is pretty relevant. Back in May, she tweeted support for “household voting,” adding that “a married couple would have to decide on one vote.” She went on to say that “in a Godly household, the husband would get the final say.”

In her article, DeSanctis writes: “Every abortion ends the life of a distinct, living human being.” But beyond a simple declarative statement like that, she doesn’t want to talk about difficult questions, such as: If abortion involves killing a baby, why would anyone agree to it being legal in the case of rape or incest? Or: Aren’t women who get abortions guilty, at minimum, of being accessories to murder? If so, why shouldn’t they be prosecuted? To address those questions means getting into areas conservatives want to avoid because it exposes the extremism of their position.

For most people, however, abortion is much more complex. In recognizing that, the job of Democrats becomes more difficult, as Barack Obama warned us back when he was still a U.S. Senator.

The bottom line is that our job is harder than the conservatives’ job.  After all, it’s easy to articulate a belligerent foreign policy based solely on unilateral military action, a policy that sounds tough and acts dumb; it’s harder to craft a foreign policy that’s tough and smart.  It’s easy to dismantle government safety nets; it’s harder to transform those safety nets so that they work for people and can be paid for.  It’s easy to embrace a theological absolutism; it’s harder to find the right balance between the legitimate role of faith in our lives and the demands of our civic religion.  But that’s our job.  And I firmly believe that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, or oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose.  Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose.

Abortion is one of those topics where the job of Democrats is harder because it involves recognizing that human experience doesn’t tend to fit neatly into ideological boxes.

I’ll end with a personal story that demonstrates the complexity of this issue. I once knew a 16-year-old who learned she was pregnant while trying to finish high school and raise her 18 month-old son. She didn’t want to have an abortion so she set up an appointment with a local adoption agency. When I asked her how it went, her exact words were: “I have no choice. I have to have an abortion.” That’s because she had already named the man who got her pregnant and he wouldn’t agree to an adoption, cutting off that avenue for her.

That is precisely why Democrats are pro-choice. It means doing everything necessary to ensure that women have alternatives and the right to decide what to do with their own bodies.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.