Ethics & Public Policy Center

Why the Democratic Convention Ignored Abortion

Published in National Review Online on August 25, 2020

At a convention noticeably light on policy specifics, Democratic speakers were especially careful not to discuss abortion, an issue on which the party has grown considerably more extreme over the past few years.

With the nomination of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, Democrats have selected the most radically pro-abortion ticket in U.S. history. But, strikingly, the word “abortion” wasn’t mentioned a single time at the convention, and speakers mostly avoided talking about it even with the typical euphemisms of “choice” or “women’s rights.”

One of the sole references to abortion came from Harris herself, who claimed that “black, Latino, and indigenous people are suffering and dying disproportionately [because of] the injustice in reproductive and maternal health care.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, decreed that Democrats “are unleashing the power of women to take our rightful place in our national life by championing a woman’s right to choose and defending Roe v. Wade.”

But otherwise, speakers largely dodged the issue, despite the fact that the platform affirmed at the convention states that the Democratic Party is “committed to protecting and advancing reproductive health, rights, and justice.” The platform continues:

We believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should be able to access high-quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion. We will repeal the Title X domestic gag rule and restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood. . . . Democrats oppose and will fight to overturn federal and state laws that create barriers to reproductive health and rights. We will repeal the Hyde Amendment, and protect and codify the right to reproductive freedom. . . . Democrats oppose restrictions on medication abortion care that are inconsistent with the most recent medical and scientific evidence and that do not protect public health.

Their reluctance to defend or even acknowledge the party’s extreme position on abortion isn’t surprising, especially considering that Democrats have spent the campaign thus far insisting that Biden is a moderate. On abortion, as on most policy issues, that simply isn’t the case.

Last summer, Biden abandoned one of his few remaining positions that allowed him to claim moderation on the issue and reversed his decades of support for the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal dollars from directly underwriting abortion. Having chosen to adhere to the party platform rather than exercise his influence to moderate it, Biden now supports taxpayer-funded elective abortion with no restrictions to speak of.

Like his running mate, he has promised to appoint only justices who affirm their support for Roe v. Wade and subsequent liberal abortion jurisprudence. He has vowed to “codify Roe,” and Harris has gone even further, backing Senate legislation to overrule any state law that protects unborn children during the last three months of pregnancy. During the presidential campaign, she vowed to establish a regime of “preclearance,” in which her Justice Department would challenge any state law it deems in violation of Roe.

Though Americans tend to be more likely to call themselves “pro-choice” than “pro-life,” an overwhelming majority of the public disagrees with the Democratic Party on unrestricted legal abortion and taxpayer-funded abortion, especially overseas.

Detailed surveys of public opinion on abortion tend to find that most Americans support placing at least some restrictions on the procedure. One such poll found that about three-quarters of Americans want abortion to be legal only during the first three months of pregnancy, if at all. According to Gallup, only 13 percent of Americans and 18 percent of Democrats support allowing abortion at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason, as the party does.

Meanwhile, a 2018 survey found that Democratic voters were almost evenly split on whether taxpayer dollars should fund abortion in the U.S., and a 2017 poll found that nearly three-quarters of Democrats opposed taxpayer-funded abortion overseas. Disregarding the views of these Democrats, Biden opposes Hyde and promises to reverse the Mexico City policy, which prevents U.S. aid from going to groups that provide or promote abortion around the globe.

Perhaps the best evidence of this disagreement within the party came last week when a group of more than 100 pro-life Democratic leaders wrote to the DNC, asking party officials to moderate the platform on abortion and acknowledge that one-third of Democrats call themselves pro-life. It is little surprise that their request was entirely ignored.

It is even less surprising that, at a convention to nominate a ticket so zealous on unlimited legal abortion, Democrats tried so hard to avoid mentioning it at all.

Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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