Democratic Party Hardens Its Support for Legal Abortion in the Most Pro-Abortion Platform Yet

By The Stream Published on July 26, 2016

To the surprise of no one, the draft 2016 Democratic platform, expected to be affirmed without changes this week, offered the strongest affirmation of legal abortion the party has ever given. Most significantly, for the first time, the platform insists that the federal government be able to fund abortions directly, by calling for the elimination the Hyde Amendment — an “abortion game-changer,” as a Salon writer put it, removing what The Guardian called “the biggest barriers to abortion left standing.”

Support for abortion without exceptions would be a criterion in appointing judges, in public policy and funding, and in international aid. The first and third are new to the party’s platform.

The Hyde Amendment prevents federal funds (but not state or local funds) from being “expended for any abortion” (with some exceptions) or “for health benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.” It is applied with the Helms Amendment, which prohibits the use of foreign aid to fund abortions for “the performance of abortion as a method of family planning.” The platform calls for its repeal as well.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton fully supports the repeal of both amendments. Speaking at the beginning of January while campaigning in New Hampshire, she declared abortion “a fundamental human right” and rejected the Hyde Amendment because “Any right that requires you to take extraordinary measures to access it is no right at all.”

The demand for removing the amendment did not come from the leading pro-choice groups, the Guardian claimed, but from activist groups like the National Asian Pacific Women’s Forum and the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health. “The result is a movement that overtly fuses one of the modern Democratic party’s most established positions — support for abortion rights — with the interests of the activists who increasingly represent the demographic future of the party.”

The Party’s Position

The party’s position appears in three places in the platform, which had been approved by the platform committee in early July.

From the section “Appointing Judges”:

We will appoint judges who defend the constitutional principles of liberty and equality for all, and will protect a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion ….

From “Securing Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice”:

Democrats are committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice. We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured. We believe that reproductive health is core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing. We will continue to stand up to Republican efforts to defund Planned Parenthood health centers, which provide critical health services to millions of people. We will continue to oppose—and seek to overturn—federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion, including by repealing the Hyde Amendment. We condemn and will combat any acts of violence, harassment, and intimidation of reproductive health providers, patients, and staff. We will defend the ACA, which extends affordable preventive health care to women, including no cost contraception, and prohibits discrimination in health care based on gender.

The platform also criticized barriers to “reproductive health care services,” including “a full range of family planning services help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” The party supports “a woman’s decision to have a child” and her right to help in doing so, and promise to create “a society where children are safe and can thrive.”

From “Women and Girls”:

We will support sexual and reproductive health and rights around the globe. In addition to expanding the availability of affordable family planning information and contraceptive supplies, we believe that safe abortion must be part of comprehensive maternal and women’s health care and included as part of America’s global health programming. Therefore, we support the repeal of harmful restrictions that obstruct women’s access to health care information and services, including the “global gag rule” and the Helms Amendment that bars American assistance to provide safe, legal abortion throughout the developing world.

The 20126 position on abortion hardens the Democratic party’s position from the position it took in the last election. In the one section of the 2012 platform on abortion, titled “Protecting A Woman’s Right to Choose,” the Democratic party declared that it

strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay. We oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way. We also recognize that health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. We strongly and unequivocally support a woman’s decision to have a child by providing affordable health care and ensuring the availability of and access to programs that help women during pregnancy and after the birth of a child, including caring adoption programs.

Dissenting Democrats

Not every Democrat is pleased. The support for abortion “effectively marginalizes the voices of 21 million pro-life Democrats,” wrote Democrats for Life president Kristen Day in the Los Angeles Times when the draft was released. Writing with Catholic ethicist Charles Camosy, she argued that the party’s unequivocal support for abortion “means the party that is supposedly on the side of justice for the vulnerable no longer welcomes those of us who #ChooseBoth; that is, those of us who want the government to protect and support prenatal children and their mothers.”

They argued that the platform will drive away pro-life voters the party will need to win swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The Democratic Party has supported legal abortion since its 1976 platform, the one Jimmy Carter run under, which merely approved the Roe v. Wade decision.

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