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Jewish World Review April 1, 2004 / 11 Nissan, 5764

Nat Hentoff

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Can Kerry reclaim pro-life Dems?


http://www.NewsandOpinion.com | U.S. Reps. James Oberstar (Minnesota) and Bart Stupak (Michigan) — members of the Democrats for Life of America's National Advisory Board — met with Democratic National Committee head Terry McAuliffe, on March 4, to point out that the Democrats' majority in Congress diminished at almost the same rate pro-life voters left the party.

These are the illuminating statistics — ignored by the media — that were presented to McAuliffe: In the 95th Congress (1977-78), Democrats had a 292-seat majority in the House, which included 125 pro-life Democrats. Now, as a minority, Democrats are down to 204 seats, with 28 pro-life Democrats.

At the meeting, McAuliffe was told that in certain Congressional districts, a pro-life Democrat would be able to win a Republican-leaning seat. John Kerry and the Democratic National Committee, said McAuliffe's visitors, should be well-advised to look hard at those districts. McAuliffe told them to talk to Kerry and the DNC Executive Board.

The pro-life Democratic members of Congress who came to see McAuliffe asked him to have the DNC Web site provide a link to Democrats for Life of America, and to expand the current platform language of the party to accept pro-life Democrats. Also, they would like at least one pro-life speaker at the 2004 Democratic Convention to show there is room in the party for debate on the issue.

Former Democrats who felt the party has abandoned pro-lifers entirely have been in contact with Democrats for Life of America once they found out it exists. Their reasons for defection included:

— "It seemed like the Democratic Party became less pro-choice and more pro-abortion during the 1980s. For some reason, freedom of speech and thought stopped when it came to abortion."

— "The only place where it was OK to talk about both sides of the abortion issue was the Republican Party. Since 1984, I have voted for the Republicans, primarily because of the abortion issue. It hasn't been easy. I didn't really like Bush I or Bush II, but when the Democrats shut off any pro-life speeches at the ... 1992 convention, I couldn't vote for Clinton."

It was at the 1992 Democratic Convention that then-Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, whom I had the privilege of knowing, was prevented from speaking. This, even though, of all of the governors in the nation, he had done more than any other for the poor (including providing health insurance for children whose families couldn't afford it, but were not eligible for public assistance).

For women, Casey required HMOs to pay for annual mammograms for women over age 40, and he set up multi-dimensional health care programs for women and children. But the late governor was pro-life, and so Clinton's convention handlers blocked him from speaking. Casey asked me at the time: "What has become of the Democratic Party I once knew? It's become a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Abortion Rights Action League."

But Casey did not leave the Democratic Party; he was too committed to its traditions. Many pro-life Democrats, however, have switched or stayed at home rather than vote. Those looking for another reason why party members defected need only look at the House Democrats' vigorous and unsuccessful opposition to the pending Unborn Victims of Violence bill. If adopted, it would penalize attacks on a pregnant woman as separate federal crimes against the fetus and the mother. Doctors performing legal abortions would be exempted.

House Democrats opposed the bill, despite a Newsweek poll, cited in a Feb. 26 Washington Times editorial, that found that "more than 80 percent of Americans think that the killer of a pregnant woman and her unborn child should face two charges of murder."

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As Illinois Republican Henry Hyde said during the debate on the House floor about his opponents' pro-abortion slogan, the right to choose, "there is only one choice, a dead baby or a live baby." As of this writing, the Senate vote will be very close.

In the interest of full disclosure, although I have voted as an independent for many years, I am registered as a Democrat in New York City because usually that's the only way for my voice to be heard in most elections there. Accordingly, I agreed to be listed as a member of the National Advisory Board of Democrats for Life of America because I have often — in this column and other writings, including my books — publicly declared myself to be a non-religious civil libertarian pro-lifer.

And I agree with the question of a former Democrat who told the Democrats for Life of America: "Why has the Republican Party been allowed to hijack the Democratic Party on the issue?"

Democrats for Life of America is located at 1667 K Street, N.W., Suite 520, Washington, D.C. 20006 (www.democratsforlife.org).


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Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights and author of several books, including his current work, "The War on the Bill of Rights and the Gathering Resistance". Comment by clicking here.

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