Tom Berg - DNC 2012
Democrats for Life of America Panel
Tuesday, September 4
Why do I call myself a pro-life Democrat, and why do I work with an organization called Democrats for Life? For two reasons: I believe in the overall values the Democratic Party has stood for, and I believe the problem of abortion cannot be seriously addressed without those values.
Democrats have historically taken the side of the vulnerable and insisted that society has a role in protecting them. Pro-life Democrats continue to follow those values and call on the Party to follow them concerning unborn children, who are human beings in positions of total vulnerability.
We also believe that there is no way of solving the problem of abortion without strong social supports for women and children. Preventing abortion requires addressing the economic and other pressures that make abortion seem, for so many women, like the only choice. Supporting women and children is the right thing for a just society to do. Pro-choice and pro-life people can find common ground on that. And supporting women and children is necessary for the pro-life position to succeed. If women are in desperate circumstances because of holes in our social safety net, abortions will rise. And pro-lifers can talk all the want about laws restricting abortion: public opinion will increasingly turn against those laws if people see women to be in desperate circumstances. Only a whole-life approach can reduce abortion for the long term.
Steve Schneck will talk more about the evidence linking poverty and abortion. Three-quarters of women having abortions listed inability to afford a child as a major factor in their decision. Abortion rates are four times as high among women below the federal poverty level. In Western Europe, despite its liberal social attitudes, abortion rates run well below those of America because of the European safety net.
Unfortunately, today’s Republican Party threatens to eviscerate many of these supports. One big problem lies in the Republicans’ approach to the federal budget. Paul Ryan’s proposals try to reduce the deficit while still cutting high-income taxes and increasing defense spending. As a result, as the Congressional Budget Office pointed out, under any realistic assumptions, Ryan’s plan must reduce all discretionary non-defense spending to less than 1 percent of the budget. Even to get close to that means huge cuts not just to education and infrastructure but to food stamps and other programs serving the poor. We must take steps to reduce the federal deficit, and both parties must face up to that, but there is nothing pro-life about doing so by gutting anti-poverty spending while increasing the military and cutting high-income taxes.
Another big problem lies in the Republican determination to repeal the Affordable Care Act, lock, stock, and barrel. Evidence from Massachusetts suggests that mandatory insurance coverage there, achieved under Gov. Romney, has helped drive down abortions, especially teen abortions, since 2008. If Republicans repeal the ACA, there will be no chance for it to accomplish similar results nationally. And the ACA includes a number of pro-life benefits, including funds to colleges for pregnancy and parenting resources for students—an important initiative because one-fifth of abortions are performed on college students. The ACA also provides other funding for pregnant and parenting teens and expands the adoption tax credit and adoption-assistance programs to make adoption a more attractive alternative to abortion. The GOP’s promised repeal of Obamacare will kill all these programs.
It is a challenge to be a pro-life Democrat, as this year again shows. The formal platform again gives no consideration to the millions of Democrats who identify as pro-life, who support even simply reasonable regulations such as informed-consent laws to show regard for unborn life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to work to encourage and elect pro-life Democrats who will advance those views.
And the GOP is currently driven by an anti-government, Tea-Party-inspired mindset that is ill-suited for pro-life goals. During the 2000s, I respected and, as a church-state scholar, I publicly supported President Bush’s program of compassionate conservatism to cooperate more with faith-based and other community organizations fighting poverty—a program, by the way, that Obama has continued. But you hear nothing like that from Republicans now. A telling example is Rick Santorum, who as a senator in 2006 championed increased tax incentives for charitable giving and stood with leaders of religious charities in front of a “Fighting Poverty” backdrop to oppose cuts in federal community-development grants. This year, running for president, Santorum supported freezes or cuts not only in Medicaid but also in housing, food stamps, education, and job training.
I identify as a pro-life Democrat, and I work to advance that position, because it’s crucial in the long run for achieving and sustaining a just society for all.