Monday, July 07, 2008

Pro-Choice is a Moral Position

Kate Michelman (former Presdient of NARAL) and Frances Kissling (President of Catholics for Free Choice)--both Obama supporters--co-wrote the following piece, "Are Democrats Backpedaling on Abortion Rights," in Salon, published yesterday. I am not yet sure what their response is to Obama's recent interview with Relevant Magazine. But, what they do write here is worth quoting:

What then should Democrats and Sen. Obama do?

We need not wait for either the Democratic convention or the election to move forward on reducing the need for abortion. Two perfectly good bills are languishing in Congress. One, the Prevention First Act, was introduced by Sen. Clinton; the other, the Reducing the Need for Abortion Initiative by Rep. Rosa DeLauro and Rep. Tim Ryan, a pro-life Democrat. These bills need to move forward and perhaps be consolidated. (The Clinton bill does more for family planning, and the Ryan-DeLauro bill more for women who want to continue pregnancies.) Sen. Clinton is in a perfect position to make that happen, and we will work with her on that goal. Moving these bills before the election will give us a yardstick by which to measure members of Congress' commitments to meeting women's needs while recognizing their rights.

Sen. Obama will also have opportunities to show leadership. If and when Wallis approaches him to talk about abortion reduction, Obama should point him to the record of the Democratic Party on preventing pregnancy, honoring a woman's right to choose and supporting women who need economic help in raising children. That's worthy of praise, not criticism. He could call on Wallis to become a supporter of family planning for all women, and to defend the progress women have made on their journey to full and equal rights.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Wallis' self-described search for a moral statement on abortion is his apparent ignorance of the moral basis of a pro-choice position. Thirty-five years of safe and legal abortion, and solidarity with the millions of American women who have had abortions, have led to pro-choice values that are sweeping in their scope. Women of color, in particular, have had a profound impact in defining "choice" by insisting on situating reproductive choice within the much larger context of jobs, healthcare, human dignity, child care and educational opportunities for low-income women -- to make pregnancy and motherhood a real choice for everyone; to make sure abortion is a choice and never a grim default and, when it is a choice, is safe and legal and never stigmatized by Democrats. Obama's skills could be used to enlist Wallis and others to support this expansive vision of women's rights and well-being.

Finally, Sen. Obama needs to set the tone within the Democratic National Committee as well as within his campaign and reach out to women. The development of a women's rights policy must be as high a priority as a plan for world peace and an economic agenda. While both men and women have a stake in women's well-being, women's preeminent role in developing policies that affect their lives must be a central commitment of the senator and the party.

As feminists who have proudly and enthusiastically supported Obama for some time, we are convinced that this is exactly the approach he will take. And while this approach is as old as feminism, it will be a breath of fresh air in the party.

I have highlighted the paragraphs that contain the most crucial point that needs to find its way to the Obama camp. Pro-choice is a moral position. Pro-choice is part of a larger reproductive rights movement that is wholly commensurate with the Democratic platform: better jobs, affordable health care, better and affordable education, safer communities, etc.

I think all of us are hoping that Obama will make good on his promise to change the way things are done in Washington. This DOES include changing the existing frames on the abortion debate. Not only do we need to make it clear--as Michelman and Kissling point out--that pro-choice is a moral position, but we also need to remember that there are folks who are anti-abortion-such as Wallis--who, nonetheless, are sympathetic to the work pro-choice activists are doing to promote human dignity and well-being for all people, especially low-income women.

Has anyone seen if Michelman and Kissling have responded to Obama's interview?