July 1, 1996
Alan W. Dowd
The Republican Party has re-opened an old argument with a new round of fighting over abortion language in the 1996 platform. How the Party responds to this challenge will have a profound effect on the national abortion debate.
Republicans would do well to consider their party’s founding as they gather in San Diego. Hoping to sidestep the moral dilemma of abortion, Republican pragmatists and abortion advocates seem to forget or overlook the reason their party was formed. The GOP was born to wage and win a moral crusade against slavery. One of the great soldiers of that crusade was Frederick Douglass, who escaped the prison of the South to become the anti-slavery movement’s most inspiring spokesman.
In 1852, the former slave delivered an Independence Day address that calls to mind this present crisis within the GOP. Douglass chided the pragmatists of his day for being timid and silent, reminding those in attendance that a nation remained divided and scarred because of their indifference: "Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood...is wrong?" An exasperated Douglass flatly answered the question: "The time for such argument is past."
There is much to be learned from that era.
Despite Douglass’ scathing rebuke, the government continued to support the status quo for the balance of the 1850s. Congress passed brutal fugitive slave laws; repealed its own ban on slavery in Kansas and Nebraska; and criminalized public protests against slavery. By 1857, the Supreme Court affirmed the slavery status quo by declaring in the Dred Scott decision that slavery could not be outlawed or reversed.
But the tide began to turn in 1854, when the Republican Party emerged as a viable alternative to a Democratic Party beholden to the slavery status quo. The Republican Party provided Douglass and other abolitionists a common pulpit from which they could coordinate their messages, persuade the vast political center, and finally close that dark chapter of history in 1864––more than thirty years after the generally accepted birth of the American abolitionist movement.
Since 1980, the GOP has played a similar role in the abortion debate. And it must continue to provide a national platform to educate an indifferent America on the realities of this most common of medical procedures.
As science edges ever closer to confirming what abortion opponents have always known–that the miraculous development and growth of human life after birth is only a reflection of what occurs prior birth––the GOP should remain on the side of life.
As the abortion industry harvests 5,000 lives per day and generates hundreds of millions of dollars per year for a web of political, social, and economic interest groups, the GOP should firmly resist the calls for compromise. This fight is not futile.
As America learns that unborn children are not the only victims of the abortion status quo––scores of studies trace cancer and infertility to abortion––the GOP should open its heart to the women who bear the physical and psychological scars that euphemism cannot heal.
If the GOP remains committed to the Pro-Life message, it will bolster efforts to inform the political center, as it did for the anti-slavery movement in the 1850s. If, however, supporters of the abortion status quo succeed in San Diego by removing or weakening the platform’s defense of the unborn, we may witness the 1850s in reverse, as a moral-political movement loses its national voice and becomes an ineffective collection of groups on the margins of public discourse. Consider what is happening today even with the GOP’s open commitment to life:
During his term, President Clinton permitted researchers to resume the harvesting of fetal tissue; attempted to clear the way for the production of an abortion pill in the United States; signed a bill restricting the political activity and constitutional rights of abortion opponents; rescinded an executive order that prohibited federally-funded clinics from promoting abortion as an alternative to pregnancy; and perhaps most viciously, vetoed a bi-partisan ban on partial-birth abortions that offered common ground for all political persuasions.
The current Republican platform shines light on the acts committed in the name of choice and politics; it offers a symbolic but important statement about the differences between those who support the status quo and those who want to overturn it. As the keystone of the anti-abortion cause, the Pro-Life plank is the first step in ensuring that abortion becomes part of history; the next step is electing a president and Congress that will work together on issues of life.
History is on the side of life and liberty for all mankind––black and white, born and unborn. With perseverance, the abortion mills will meet the same end as the plantations. Until that day, the GOP must give voice to the victims of abortion and offer an alternative to a selfish culture that views life as an inconvenience or a piece of property. As they wrestle with this question, the platform committee and the entire Republican Party should remember Frederick Douglass’ Independence Day reproach: Must this party be convinced a second time that a system marked with blood is wrong? Those rushing toward the slippery middle ground should be respectfully but firmly reminded, "the time for such argument is past."