(CNSNews.com) - Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Penn.), a Catholic whose voting record has earned a 65 percent rating from the National Abortion Rights Action League, has been selected to speak at the Democratic National Convention on Aug 26 – a move that has kicked off a dispute about how pro-life the Democratic Party is.
Some pro-life Democrats say that the selection of Casey is a sign that the Democratic Party has made significant progress towards full inclusion of pro-life voices. For others, however, it is a sign that the “people’s party” is not pro-life at all.
Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life, told CNSNews.com that the Democratic Party has moved far beyond where it was 16 years ago when Casey’s father, the late Gov. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, was barred from speaking at the 1992 Democratic National Convention because he was a pro-life Catholic.
“I think it is very exciting,” Day said. “I think the Democratic Party is changing and moving away from abortion as a decision-making tool -- when we’re saying who can speak and who can’t -- and I think it is very encouraging to see this more inclusive party.”
Casey, who has said that he believes life begins at the moment of conception, is set to speak during the convention's session Tuesday night, Aug. 26. In a statement, Casey said that he was honored to have the opportunity.
“Our country faces very grave economic, military, and foreign policy challenges, and many Americans of all political parties will vote for a change in November,” he said. “Barack Obama is the only candidate who offers that change of direction we need.”
Obama supports abortion on demand, including partial-birth abortion. As a state senator, Obama voted against a bill to protect aborted babies who survive the procedure and are born alive.
When it comes to Casey, Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, questioned his being a speaker at the Democratic convention. Donahue, who said many pro-life Democrats are Catholics, as was the late Gov. Casey, said the Pennsylvania senator is pro-life “in name only” – unlike his late father.
“If a Democrat voted with the National Rifle Association two out of every three times, no one in his right mind would call that person an advocate of gun control,” Donahue said.
“Yet Bob Casey Jr., who has a NARAL (National Abortion Rights Action League) voting record of 65 percent -- meaning that he votes with the radical pro-abortion group two out of every three times -- is somehow considered pro-life,” said Donahue. “Casey can mouth the virtues of pro-life all he wants, but at the end of the day what matters is his voting record.”
According to NARAL Pro-Choice America – and confirmed by Senate records -- the score is based on five key abortion-related votes taken in 2007.
Casey voted with pro-life senators in favor of Sen. Wayne Allard’s (R-Colo.) amendment to H.R. 976, the Child Health Insurance Program reauthorization bill that would have provided health-care coverage for unborn children.
He sided with pro-abortion rights senators in voting for an amendment to the State Department/Foreign Operations funding bill (H.R. 2764), that would have led to the full repeal of the Mexico City Policy, which bars U.S. funds from going towards any program that provides abortion or offers abortion counseling worldwide. However, he voted against an amendment supported by pro-abortion rights senators that would have partially appealed the policy.
He sided with pro-abortion senators in voting against Sen. Sam Brownback’s (R-Kan.) amendment to H.R. 2764 to nullify a provision that effectively tied the president’s hands and barred him from unilaterally canceling the U.S. contribution to the United Nations Population Fund -- an agency that funds abortion and sterilization programs worldwide.
Finally, Casey voted with pro-abortion senators against Sen. David Vitter’s (R-La.) amendment to the Labor/Health and Human Services/Education appropriations bill to defund family planning clinics nationwide.
Casey spokesman Larry Smar, meanwhile, told CNSNews.com that Donahue “is certainly entitled to say whatever he wants even if what he says is not supported by the facts.”
“Senator Casey has a consistent pro-life voting record,” Smar said. “He has also introduced legislation to reduce the number of abortions by targeting the underlying factors that often lead women to have abortions.”
Further, Casey’s Pregnant Women Support Act “would help pregnant high school and college students stay in school,” and “would help promote adoption and make the adoption tax credit permanent,” Smar said.
The Pregnant Women Support Act is a major piece of legislation being advanced by Democrats for Life, Day told CNSNews.com.
Moreover, it was the election of Casey and other pro-life Democrats to Congress in 2006, Day pointed out, that gave pro-lifers clout in the party. Democrats only took over Congress because pro-life Democrats got into office.
“In 2004, we saw major losses as Democrats, but only two years later, in 2006, the Big Tent started to open up and we started supporting pro-life candidates,” said Day. “We picked up Heath Schuler and Brad Ellsworth and Joe Donnelly – strong pro-life forces in Congress – and also Bob Casey.”
‘Phenomenal progress’ vs. ‘Window-dressing’
Just how pro-life the Democratic Party is has come into question. In the six years she has been working to convert the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the pro-life cause, Day said the progress has been phenomenal.
“In 2004, we were trying to get a link to the DNC Web site, and the answer was no,” Day said. “This year, however, during the platform-writing process, we were part of it. We were included as part of the Democratic Party, rather than being met with skepticism.”
The 2008 party platform, which hasn’t been “officially” unveiled – drafts have been leaked to various media -- pledges that Democrats “strongly and unequivocally” support the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision creating abortion on demand. The party also formally opposes efforts to “weaken or undermine'' abortion.
“When you look at the Roe section, obviously we have some concern about that,” Day said. “The unequivocal and strong support for Roe v. Wade regardless of the ability to pay, we don’t support that section, obviously, because we’re pro-life,” she said.
But Day said pro-lifers did manage to get language that supports reducing the numbers of abortions, and in favor of helping pregnant women carry to term.
Specifically, the 2008 draft platform says: “The Democratic Party also strongly supports a woman's decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support and caring adoption programs.”
Donahue called that language “window-dressing.”
“All they are simply saying is, ‘We’ll have some money for adoption and family planning.’ Thanks a lot. That’s not the same thing,” Donahue said. “I don’t think they changed their heart and soul at all.”
Donahue said the party passed up a chance to become more pro-life when it ignored two prominent pro-life Democratic strategists – James Carville and Paul Begala – who had called for it to soften its stand on abortion.
“They wrote a book after the 2004 election and said, ‘Listen, Democrats are not going to win unless you soften on abortion,’” noted Donahue. “But they didn’t say soften the language. These guys said, ‘Give up on partial-birth abortion. Give up on parental notification.’ In other words, most Americans are in favor of requiring parental consent for children obtaining abortions – and most Americans are repulsed by partial-birth abortion.”
“Instead, what we get is sugarcoating the language, and a more emphatic and more equivocal defense of Roe v. Wade,” said Donahue. “What did the Democrats learn? I think the whole thing is a farce.”
Day, meanwhile, admitted that her group probably cannot support the likely Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), who supports abortion rights.
“We only support and endorse pro-life candidates,” Day said. “One of our main missions is to educate people on pro-life issues, and we’re going to continue to do that and work with the whole Democratic Party on the importance of the pro-life view.”
Casey, meanwhile, has not indicated if he will broach the abortion issue during the address.