Image: Barack Obama, Bob Casey
Charles Rex Arbogast  /  AP file
Sen. Barack Obama with Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Pa., who opposes abortion rights, putting him at odds with Obama on that issue.
By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 8/27/2008 11:09:13 PM ET 2008-08-28T03:09:13

Can one oppose abortion and yet support Sen. Barack Obama for president?

It turns a small number of Democrats here in Denver do.

And yet Obama has proclaimed his support for the Roe v. Wade decision that in 1973 made abortion legal nationwide.

Obama has also voted against a bill to prohibit the transportation of a minor girl across state lines to obtain an abortion, if this would circumvent the parental consent or notification laws in her home state.

He also voted against codifying a Bush administration regulation giving states the option of covering unborn children under the State Children's Health Insurance program.

Obama received a 100 percent rating from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, a group which supports abortion rights.

The group gave Republican candidate Sen. John McCain a zero rating.

Kristen Day, the head of Democrats for Life, a group of Democratic activists who oppose abortion and want to see the Roe decision reversed, said Wednesday in Denver “if we didn’t include pro-life Democrats in the big tent of the party, we (Democrats) would be in the minority.”

Pro-lifers give Democrats their majority
She’s probably correct. The pro-life Democratic candidates who have proven able to win certain congressional districts in Tennessee, Pennsylvania, and other states have given House Speaker Nancy Pelosi her majority.

Day sees signs of hope in Obama’s stance and in the platform adopted at this convention.

Day acknowledges that the Democratic platform has “a strong and unequivocal support for Roe v. Wade and that portion was strengthened.”

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But she explained “in 2004 we didn’t have any say and we weren’t included in the discussion about what should be in the platform. This time the platform committee sought our opinion and that of other pro-life leaders.”

Slideshow: Democrats in Denver The platform now includes language stressing the need for preventing unintended pregnancies and for supporting pregnant women. It mentions adoption as an option. “That’s very encouraging and it’s a step in the right direction,” Day said.

“I’m excited that Democrats at this convention for the first time are listening to those of us who believe that we have to champion the unborn child,” said Rep. Lincoln Davis, an anti-abortion Democrat from rural Tennessee.

Davis is the chief sponsor of the Pregnant Women Support Act, which would provide federal funding for efforts to encourage women with unplanned pregnancies to carry their babies to term rather than deciding to abort.

Recruiting pro-life Democrats
“The fact that the party is actively supporting and recruiting pro-life Democrats is also a big step in the right direction,” Day added, citing anti-abortion Democratic House candidates Kathy Dahlkemper, who is running in Pennsylvania against Rep. Phil English, and John Boccieri who is running for an open House seat in Ohio.

Both Boccieri and Dahlkemper are on the Democratic Party’s favored “Red to Blue” list of House hopefuls who’ll get maximum party financial backing.

A skeptic would say the Democratic leadership supports anti-abortion Democrats only when they’re needed to win a particular conservative-leaning district or state — and then once they’re elected, the leadership renders their anti-abortion views null.

After all, like Obama, most congressional Democrats are firmly in favor of Roe’s broad definition of abortion rights. That’s not likely to change.

But Day would prefer to look for evidence of progress where she can find it — as in the platform support for the concepts in Davis’s bill.

She’d like to see Obama support more federal funding of stem cell research that does not entail destruction of human embryos.

Day supports President Bush’s veto of the bill that would have allowed funding of stem cell research that does result in the destruction of human embryos, a bill Obama voted for.

Who will be on the Supreme Court?
If, as is likely, there’s a Supreme Court vacancy in the next two years, she’d like Obama to appoint to the court “a good pro-life Democrat.” But she isn’t expecting that to happen.

“If Obama is elected president, I want him to make sure he realizes that he is the president of the United States and that people have very different views on the abortion issue. And before he overturns things when it comes to that issue, to really think about it,” Day said.

Obama ought to “really represent the whole party and not just NARAL and Planned Parenthood.”

But the campaign finance numbers indicate that NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood and Emily's List are far more powerful in supporting Democratic candidates than Day’s tiny political action committee is.

For pro-lifers, the paradox remains unresolved: Obama is pro-Roe and would appoint to the court judges who’d uphold and perhaps expand the Roe decision. Yet some pro-lifers support him.

“No matter who the president is, I don’t think you should use one issue as a litmus test either way (in nominating justices) and I would hope that he wouldn’t,” said Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who opposes abortion and supports Obama.

Casey was a featured speaker Wednesday at the Democrats for Life meeting in Denver.

Casey fielded a question from the audience on Obama’s comment in Pennsylvania that if his daughter were to become pregnant as a teenager before she was married, he wouldn’t want her to be “punished” by having a baby.

Casey said, “I don’t think it reflects what he thinks about the birth of a child.” He added that “sometimes a pregnancy is a crisis” for some women.

Former Reagan Justice Department official Doug Kmiec, who supports Obama and who was also at the Democrats for Life meeting Wednesday, said the question of whether Obama’s Supreme Court appointees would vote to affirm Roe is beside the point.

Kmiec’s view is that there aren’t four justices now on the court who’d vote to reverse the Roe decision and to allow states to significantly restrict abortion.

So for a president to replace Justice John Paul Stevens, 88, when he steps down, with a nominee committed to overturning Roe is both unlikely and pointless in Kmiec’s view.

Kmiec said he has “been greatly impressed by Sen. Obama’s understanding of faith.”

Kmiec said he’s been soured by the Republicans “using faith as a way of winning elections, creating fear and animosity in evangelicals and Catholics that ‘the Democrats hate you, they think you are irrational, that your beliefs disqualify you from participating in the public square.’ That kind of fear–mongering has become a (Karl) Rove-ian trademark.”

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