Attempting to find “common ground on abortion,” former Indiana U.S. Representative Timothy Roemer, a pro-life Catholic Democrat, and Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite, a pro-choice Democrat and president of the United Church of Christ-affiliated Chicago Theological Seminary, spoke on the “Faith in Action” panel at the Democratic National Convention in Denver on Tuesday.
The two speakers, addressing delegates and guests gathered in a ballroom at the Colorado Convention Center, professed a shared desire to reduce the number of abortions and to establish a “web of support” for poorer women who are considering having an abortion.
Citing Robert F. Kennedy’s exhortation to work to reduce the number of suffering children, Roemer defended the possibility of finding common ground on the issue.
“If we can do it with issues like jobs and health care, we can do it on abortion,” he said.
Roemer mentioned the group Democrats for Life’s “95-10” policy to reduce the abortion rate by 95 percent over the next ten years “within the law and legal system today.”
He said Sen. Obama has put “strong, binding language” in the Democratic Party platform that “all Catholics can be proud of.” Characterizing the platform as a “two-pronged” approach, he described its two aims of pregnancy prevention and supporting pregnant women so that they do not feel compelled to have an abortion because of economic need.
As part of prevention efforts, Roemer advocated contraception and “appropriate” sex education.
As part of efforts to help pregnant women, Roemer endorsed creating a “web of support” and increasing government programs and funding for women, infants and children. He also said tax credits should be granted to encourage people of “very, very, modest means” to be “out there adopting babies and giving encouragement along those avenues.”
At one point, Roemer blasted the Republican Party, claiming its policy is to attack and argue and use abortion as a “wedge issue” to win elections. He argued their goals are not really to preserve and save life, and repeated a frequent Democrat slogan accusing Republicans of acting as if they believe that life “begins at conception and ends at birth.”
He also said he supported Sen. Barack Obama “because of his stands on faith” and pointed to the candidate’s work as a community organizer in Chicago, where he had worked with the Catholic Church “to help people get jobs” and secure unemployment benefits.
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlewaite followed Rep. Roemer’s speech. While Thistlewaite stressed that she was proud of her support for Roe v. Wade, and “in favor of choice,” she said she was in favor of women having lots of choices.
Her belief that a good society “allows you to make choices,” she said, led her to endorse programs that would “reduce the need for abortions.”
“What kind of a choice is it if you are afraid on the one hand, of terminating a pregnancy or being poor, not being able to educate yourself, not being able to have health care, and not being able to have your kids grow and thrive?” she asked.
Citing the high murder rate of pregnant women, Thistlewaite encouraged better and more widespread programs against domestic violence. She advocated various other political actions, including more funding for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, SCHIP; increased pre-natal and post-natal care programs; and expanded family and medical leave.
Noting that the higher level of education a woman has, the lower her risk of teen pregnancy, she also endorsed education efforts targeted at young women.
Early in Thistlewaite’s presentation, she was briefly interrupted by two pro-life protesters, one of whom asked “Does that little child have a choice?” as he was escorted out of the ballroom.
She rebuked their actions as “an example of a lack of common ground.”
In his concluding remarks, event host and Evangelical preacher Jim Wallis referred to the protesters, saying “I’m tired of all the shouting on this question. The shouting has to stop. Let’s find some common ground.”