.- Sixteen years after his father was denied a place on the podium of the Democratic National Convention, pro-life Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania addressed delegates in Boston, and, in an address on the economy, referred to his opposition to abortionâthe very position the elder Casey says got him barred from speaking in 1992.
âIâm proud to stand before you as Governor Caseyâs son,â Casey began his remarks, immediately evoking the tension between the Democratic Partyâs leadership and itâs pro-life minority.
In the summer of 1992, Pennsylvania Governor Robert Casey had his name in the headlines, as he was at the losing end of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the decision that upheld most of Roe and instituted the âundue burden,â test for restrictions on abortion. As a Democratic governor of a swing state, he expected and requested a speaking slot at that summerâs convention, but he was turned down. Casey said it was because of his pro-life views. Operatives for Bill Clinton say it was because Casey would not campaign for Clinton.
In 1992 and since then, other pro-life Democrats have spoken from the podium, but never about abortion. Tuesday, Sen. Casey made only a passing reference to his pro-life stance. âBarack Obama and I have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that Iâm speaking here tonight is testament to Barack's ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him.â This received quiet applause from Pennsylvaniaâs delegates, and Casey then returned to economic issues.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democratsâ for Life of America, says she was pleased with Caseyâs speech, telling Catholic News Agency it conveyed âa good sense of eliminating the litmus test for being a Democrat.
Four years ago, pro-life Rep. James Langevin (D.-R.I.) spoke at the conventionâbut this caused even more agitation among pro-lifers such as Day. âHe said he believed in the sanctity of life,â Day said, âbut he went on to talk about embryonic stem-cell research, which flies in the face of the sanctity of life.â
This past Tuesday, at about 5 p.m., pro-life West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin addressed the conventionâto a much smaller and less attentive crowd than Casey enjoyed. Manchin, chairman of the National Governorsâ Association, did not address abortion even remotely, focusing instead on economic issues and energy.
Nick Casey, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, said that while the state party has a pro-life platform, he didnât want more pro-life talk on the podium. He described abortion as an âissue Republicans use to divide us,â and attributes Bushâs twice carrying West Virginia to Karl Rove âdriving the wedge on abortion, guns, and gays.â
On the other hand, there has not been much defense of abortion from the podium either. Shortly before Manchinâs speech Tuesday, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards addressed the crowd. She completely refrained from the words âabortionâ or âreproductive rights,â talking instead repeatedly about âwomenâs health care needs,â and making one reference to âa womanâs right to choose.â This echoes the near-silence on abortion from the Democratic podium four years ago.
At the 2004 convention, the lack of abortion discussion on the podium was notable because abortion and judges were the most common answers I received when asking delegates which issues were most important. This year, however, the delegates called abortion a non-issueâechoing Obamaâs dismissal of the abortion debate as an effort âto distract us from the issues that affect our lives.â
New Hampshire Delegate Paul OâConnor, President of the Metal Trades Council, the blue-collar union at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, says âI want to limit abortion, but itâs not a top issueâIâm a union guy.â
The execption this year was the speech by NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan delivered at 4:40 pm on Monday, well before prime time. Keenan vociferously defended abortion and assailed McCain. âReproductive freedom is on the line,â she said. âJohn McCain has spent more than 25 years in Washington voting against womenâs freedom and has pledged to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade.â
A search of the Conventionâs official website and a search of transcripts on Nexis revealed that Casey and Keenan were the only two speakersâout of the nearly 100 who spoke in the first two daysâto say the word âabortion.â Only three, Keenan, Richards, and DNC Platform Chair Judith McHale, spoke the words âright to choose.â