In a 900-word op-ed focused on abortion and the way politicians speak about abortion, the words “woman” and “women” each appear just once.
Surprising, right? You might think that it would be difficult to engage in an extended discussion about abortion without acknowledging the people who have abortions. But lo and behold, author, professor and former priest Thomas Groome managed to do just that in an op-ed for the New York Times.
Groome argues that “Democrats must stop being the abortion party” if they want to appeal to Catholic voters and win elections. But in doing so, he essentially ignores the very women that vote for Democrats ― in part because they need access to reproductive care, and want to see their elected officials recognize and fight for that right.
The op-ed treats abortion as a political talking point that should be pushed to the side and spoken about in hazy, moral terms in order to avoid alienating people who would prefer that abortions didn’t exist. And yet it’s women, especially low-income women and women of color, who make up a significant portion of the base of the Democratic party and suffer the consequences when anti-abortion policies (which Republicans tend to champion) are implemented.
One need look no further than the respective major party platforms to see what a stark contrast there is between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to reproductive rights. The 2016 Democratic platform states that Democrats “believe unequivocally, like the majority of Americans, that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion ― regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured.” It also commits to repealing the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal Medicaid coverage for abortion services, disproportionately impacting low-income women. On the other hand, the 2016 GOP platform proclaims support for 20-week abortion bans, and declares that Republicans “will not fund or subsidize healthcare that includes abortion coverage.”
Groome is right that a strong commitment to protecting American women’s legal right to access abortion care may alienate some voters ― even those who at one time voted for Democratic candidates. But the point of winning elections isn’t simply to win them.
Ostensibly, winning an election is about getting to enact a specific vision of governance ― hopefully one that its champions truly believe will make life better for the people they are governing. And as research has shown, for women, access to safe abortion care literally means better life outcomes. Curtailing that access has the opposite effect. Abortion access is both an economic and health imperative for many women, something that Groome’s column completely sidesteps.
After a loss like the one that Democrats experienced during the 2016 presidential election, it makes sense to expect Democratic leaders to examine their tactics and rethink their messaging. And Groome’s point that Democrats should actively highlight the way that progressive policies (i.e. access to sex ed and contraception) actually lead to a decrease in unplanned pregnancies, and therefore abortions, is a good one. But to insist that Democrats backtrack their support of safe abortion access because a specific religious group feels uncomfortable with the stance assumes that religious beliefs should hold the same weight as a person’s right to make decisions about their own medical care.
Would we expect the Democratic party to make a similar concession to appease voters who oppose marriage equality or the rights of transgender children on religious grounds? I certainly hope not. Treating issues that fundamentally impact people’s lives as pieces in a game of political chess is a far more morally tenuous position than insisting that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.
As a person who will never need to access an abortion, perhaps Groome is not the best person to speak on the issue. And yet across the board in 2017, as a recent report from the Women’s Media Center shows, men still dominate the coverage of reproductive rights, both as reporters and as expert sources.
When it comes to reproductive issues, the voices that should be heard most loudly are those of women and gender non-conforming people who needed or might need access to abortion care in the future. Those are the people who political leaders should listen to when crafting their positions, messaging and policy proposals.
If the only way for Democrats to win elections is to turn their backs on the needs and lived experiences of the Americans who vote for them, then there’s a lot more the party needs to rethink than its stance on abortion.
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