WASHINGTON - Feb. 7, 2007 -- Pro-choice Democrats have found a new way to talk about abortion. Instead of simply pledging to protect a woman's right to choose, they're also highlighting the need to reduce the number of abortions overall.
It's a position that most everyone can agree on and a political tactic that could make voting for a pro-choice Democrat more palatable for independents and moderates.
"I think there's been a huge change since 2004," says Kristen Day of Democrats for Life. "After the 2004 elections, polls came out saying Democrats were out of touch on moral issues, especially abortion."
Even though most Americans (62 percent) support Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, most have mixed views on the subject when it comes to parental consent, late-term abortions and emergency contraception.
So it comes as no surprise that Democratic presidential candidates are focusing on issues like Iraq and health care, but not spending as much time talking about protecting choice.
Last week, not a single presidential candidates showed up at NARAL Pro-Choice America's annual dinner, which is tied to the anniversary of the passage of the landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. At this same dinner before the 2004 elections, the six Democratic contenders appeared together in an unequivocal show of support and unity.
The organization says it did not invite the presidential candidates this year. Elizabeth Shipp, political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, says, "Our focus was on capitalizing victories we worked hard for in 2006…We worked very hard to put pro-choice leadership into the majority in Washington. That's what we wanted to focus on for 2007. For one minute, we wanted to take a deep breath and celebrate what we were able to accomplish."
In fact, NARAL argues that pro-choice Democrats' change in language and tactics is partially due to its efforts. The group released a candidate guide ahead of the midterm elections emphasizing a values-based message that focuses on solutions for preventing pregnancies. The organization's communications director, Ted Miller, says, "What we wanted to do was give pro-choice candidates the tools they need to go on offense and not play defense on this issue."
But Democrats for Life sees something bigger at work. They believe the Democratic establishment's backing of anti-abortion Pennsylvania senatorial candidate Bob Casey represents a sea change. In 1992, his father, the late Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey Sr., had been barred from addressing the 1992 Democratic National Convention because of his anti-abortion views. Kristen Day says, "It sent a positive message that it's OK to be pro-life and Democrat."
So in an effort to enlarge their tent, Democrats are using their newfound power in Congress to pursue legislation focused on preventing unwanted pregnancies and providing support for women who proceed with unintended pregnancies. Similar bills at the state legislature level are receiving support on both sides of the aisle.
Day believes it is the beginning of getting some voters back into the fold. "If I had a nickel for every person who came up to me and said 'I used to be a Democrat and I'd come back if they changed their stance on abortion,' we'd be back to a 290 majority like we had in the 1970s."