No Choice for Antiabortion Democrats
Occasionalby COLMAN McCARTHY
The Washington Post, February 11, 1992
With as much candor as courage, Gov. Robert P. Casey of Pennsylvania has confronted fellow Democrats publicly with a truth that many of them are squirmy about privately: the party's ideological insistence that national candidates stick to one line on abortion. It is the all-or-nothing line of the National Abortion Rights Action League, single-agenda advocates to whose recent banquet five Democratic presidential candidates piously trooped to renew their vows of abortion -rights obedience.
In a National Press Club speech, Casey said: "The national Democratic Party insists on a litmus test on this issue as a condition of nomination to the highest office in the land. And in the process, the party disables its own candidates for president before they even get out of the gate."
Casey, who calls abortion "the ultimate violence" and an epidemic "that has swept away the lives of millions of defenseless, innocent unborn children," accused his party's leadership of ignoring the views of antiabortion Democrats. That many have "walked out" in recent national elections is a major reason why four of the last five presidential races have been lost: "Unless the party learns to be tolerant of those it has alienated, it will bungle the best opportunity to recapture the White House since Watergate."
Aside from Casey, an antiabortion Democrat who won reelection in 1990 with a record margin of 1 million votes, others among the alienated include 48 House Democrats who believe that "the principle and practice of abortion on demand is wrong." The group, which included many of the House's most liberal members, used that language in an April 1989 letter to party Chairman Ronald H. Brown. They reminded him that about a third of House Democrats consistently vote to prohibit federal funding for abortions. They reject the party line.
Brown wasn't up to the task of replying with any expression of concern, much less political enlightenment. Seven weeks later, he sent back a bland letter that ducked the issue: As chairman "I cannot revise nor alter the platform."
Democrats seeking the White House take no chances in bucking their abortion -rights party. Bob Kerrey in New Hampshire in 1992 favors the abortion option. Kerrey of Nebraska in 1982 did not. Then, as quoted in a recent New York Times profile, he believed "the unborn to be human life and entitled to all the protections the state can legally offer for the preservation of life." It was the "death and destruction of young men that I led in battle" in Vietnam that influenced his thinking.
As for what influences Kerrey now, his defection has yet to come up in any of the televised debates. That's the pattern. Few in the news media or party bothered Jesse L. Jackson about his changeover when he ran for the presidency. Jackson once categorically rejected the abortion lobby, the one that he would be marching with on the streets once he heard God and some pollsters calling him to the White House. But in a 2,000-word essay in 1977 on the "religious and moral dimension" of the sacredness of life, Jackson asked: "What happens to the mind of a person, and the moral fabric of a nation, that accepts the aborting of the life of a baby without a pang of conscience? What kind of a person, and what kind of a society, will we have 20 years hence if life can be taken so casually?"
One answer is, a society that will be disillusioned by Democrats who choose their presidential candidates from a perch of only abortion -rights parrots. The party has no objections on other life-or-death issues. On capital punishment, which also means the taking of life, candidates Bill Clinton, Kerrey and Paul Tsongas favor it. Larry Agran, Jerry Brown, Tom Harkin and Eugene McCarthy don't. But on abortion, unanimity is found, necessarily so it appears. Fuzzily, the issue is cast as Democrats vs. Republicans, "pro-choice" vs. "no-choice," feminists vs. the Supreme Court monsters. All along, it's really been choosing between violence or nonviolence.
Instead of timid Ron Brown and his circle taking action, it's been left to George Bush to appeal to antiabortion Democrats. Not only Republicans were among the 75,000 who were in Washington for the annual Jan. 22 "pro-life" march, when Bush praised their efforts.
The president has a two-faced record himself on abortion, a flip here, a flop there. Even if he is casting for votes, antiabortion Democrats in large numbers appear ready to give him theirs. They did in 1988. On election night, ABC reported its exit poll: "Despite all the TV ads and speeches on prison furloughs and the Pledge of Allegiance, few voters cited those as key issues. The number one issue? Abortion -- cited by nearly a third of voters interviewed by ABC News. And those who cited abortion went for Bush."
Copyright 1992 The Washington Post