Tuesday, April 11, 2017

How Democrats Should Talk About Abortion

As Democrats engage in special elections and prepare for the 2018 midterms, it is vital that they change the way they address the abortion issue.  This post is not about changing Democrats’ unwavering support of Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose.  What this post is about is how Democrats discuss this controversial issue with the public.  In 2016 we lost the votes of many Catholics who traditionally vote Democratic because our message on this issue was too strident and unnuanced.

First, it must be absolutely clear that Democrats are not pro-abortion.  It is a sad event for probably most, if not all, women because it is either emotionally or morally a wrenching moment for them, regardless how necessary they view it.  Ideally, no woman, other than for health reasons, would ever be in a position where they felt it was necessary to abort their fetus.

That brings up the second point: the Democratic focus needs to be on government, organizations, and people doing more to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.  The fewer unwanted pregnancies, the fewer abortions.  One statistic:  Among unmarried, young (20-29) women who became pregnant between 2001 and 2008, 69% were unintended pregnancies!  A large percentage of those were probably unwanted as well.

How to reduce unwanted pregnancies? Two of the means are well known and straight-forward: improved sex education of young adults and easy access to contraception, both condoms and the pill.  

But both are controversial for some Americans for moral/religious reasons.  These are concerns we have to respect, but there is no question that teaching abstinence doesn’t work; so that is not the answer.  It certainly is appropriate, however, to teach youth to question requests for or desires for sex:  to ask “Is this something I really want to do?”, to think about what the role of sex should be and what the consequences might be.

Even with all these safeguards in place, there will still be unwanted pregnancies.  And in those cases, abortion needs to be a legal option from both a societal and a moral perspective.  

The world is full of neglected or unloved children whose psyches are negatively impacted by their experience.  There are few things more destructive for a child’s well-being and emotional health than to feel unloved or be neglected.  This has negative social consequences because of the life choices such children are more likely to make.  And morally, it is not right to place children, who after all have no say in whether they are born or who their parents are, in such a damaging situation.

When Democrats speak to this issue, this is how it should be addressed.  Yes, the bottom line is support for Roe v Wade and a woman’s right to choose.  But the issue is much more complex than that.  And nothing that I’ve suggested takes away from those principles.  It won’t win back all lost Catholic votes, but it will make a difference.