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Jewish World Review April 3, 2003 / 30 Adar II, 5763

Nat Hentoff

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A pro-life advance in the Democratic Party | The Michigan Democratic Party has become the first state Democratic organization to officially recognize the Choose Life Caucus. One of the organizers, attorney George Ward, believes, as I do, that the Democratic Congressional leadership "has a very wrong conception of what the majority of Americans believe about abortion."

On Feb. 15, at one of the party's constituency caucus meetings, the Choose Life Caucus assembled in Detroit's Cobo Hall. State party chair Mark Brewer proclaimed that "we are the big-tent party." I was asked to speak by conference call as a pro-lifer who is entirely a secularist (having come to my pro-life position by reading biology).

Those present included a congressman and members of the Michigan state legislature. There presence was appropriate, as I examined the politics of abortion, citing the Jan. 15 USA Today CNN/Gallup poll showing that 60 percent of those surveyed nationwide believe that abortion should be legal only in a few circumstances, or not at all. Only 38 percent said abortion should be legal in most, or all, circumstances.

This is mainstream America's opinion on abortion -- contrary to those Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who insist that those judicial nominees who are not wholly pro-choice must be rejected because they are "out of the mainstream." Refuting that stance, I also noted a John Zogby poll, taken after the last national elections, which showed a 7 percent pro-life plurality in the senatorial elections and a 12 percent pro-life plurality in the House elections.

I later quoted a pivotal Washington Post editorial, "Life and My Party," by Jeb Byrne, former director of the Office of Federal Register and a Democratic political appointee to various offices. Byrne wrote that he has "a problem with my party these days: I cannot reconcile its traditional liberalism, egalitarianism and life-affirming qualities with its current love affair with nihilism and abortion."

He asked his party to at least "acknowledge that among those dismayed by the current abortion culture are many loyal Democrats who do not belong to what the abortion-endorsers like to label the 'far-right fringe'" and the party should "drop its automatic opposition to every legislative act aimed at reducing the abortion toll."

I also cited part of an essay by 17-year-old Troy High School student Lucy Lu. The Michigan teen won second prize in an essay contest conducted by a Detroit publication, "Lifespan News":

"As righteous as this 'my body, my choice' argument sounds," she wrote, "the rights of the embryo must also be taken into consideration. An embryo is a human life; it meets the definition of life, which is the possession of 'cellular biochemical activity characterized by the ingestion of nutrients and the storage and use of energy,' and it contains the critical DNA that separates it from other plants and animals."

Because this is human life, with its own DNA, the student emphasized that "permitting abortion contradicts the entire concept of individual rights."

I do not expect to see this position included in a future platform of the national Democratic Party. But I doubt if Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe would poll loyal rank-and-file Democrats to find out how many agree with Lu.

Referring back to politics, I mentioned to the Choose Life Caucus a warning to the Democratic Party from JWR's Zev Chafets, a plainspoken, uncategorizable columnist:

"The national proportion of 'pro-choice' voters has dropped in the past seven years from 56 percent to 47 percent (the pro-life camp has risen from 33 percent to 46 percent), and there is no reason to suppose the trend will change soon."

In both the House and Senate, as Chafets predicted, a good many Democrats recently voted to ban partial-birth abortion, which former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a leading Democrat, described as only inches away from infanticide. But when this new law, signed by the president, gets to the courts, what will be the official position of the Democratic Party?

As Chafets notes, the last time a Gallup poll asked about late-term abortions, 69 percent around the country opposed second-trimester abortion and 86 percent opposed third-trimester abortions. Yet, I've not heard one candidate from the horde of Democratic presidential contenders oppose such late-term abortions, which are essentially a procedure where the fetal body is pulled out of the uterus, and while the body is dangling partly out of the woman's body, the skull is crushed.

The Choose Life Caucus of the Michigan Democratic Party may multiply in other state Democratic parties. I wonder if the late Robert Casey -- a superb Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, popular party figure and a pro-lifer -- were alive, would he again be banned from speaking at the Democratic National Convention, even though, like many Democrats, he was pro-life?

When Casey died, President Clinton said he admired Casey's "commitment to principle" but Clinton did not object to his party silencing Casey.

It turns out that Casey, not Clinton, was right about the American mainstream view of abortion.

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JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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