By Matt Hadro
Catholic News Agency
PHILADELPHIA (CNA/EWTN News) – The Democratic Party platform has drawn the ire of critics – including a member of Barack Obama’s former campaign – who say its extreme positions on abortion shut out millions of pro-life voters.
“It’s morally reprehensible,” Michael Wear, director of faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign, told CNA of the pro-abortion plank. The party had an opportunity “to re-open the big tent” and adopt pro-life policies for pro-life Democrats, but did not, he continued.
The Democratic Party platform acknowledges problems like wage stagnation, racism, and income inequality and calls for a broad range of polices; the list includes promoting abortion-on-demand, a “progressive” vision of religious freedom, supporting a $15-an-hour federal minimum wage, overturning the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, and expanding protections in “sex discrimination law.”
It includes a call for the full abolition of the death penalty, using much stronger language than the 2012 platform, which simply said that capital punishment “must not be arbitrary.”
Absent from the platform was any mention of pornography as a “public health crisis,” as the GOP platform had called it.
The abortion plank in the platform shows a sharp departure from previous years. Gone is the call for abortion to be “rare.” Instead, “reproductive health” is considered “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing.”
The platform calls for a broad expansion of abortion access, including overturning the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal dollars from directly funding abortions, and the Helms Amendment, which bans federal dollars from funding abortions abroad. The proposal would overturn decades of U.S. policy.
Dr. Matthew Bunson, EWTN Senior Contributor, noted that when Bill Clinton ran for office in 1996, the Democratic platform mentioned abortion once. This year, abortion is mentioned 19 times in the platform.
“That itself gives us an idea of the seriousness of this issue for them,” he told EWTN News Nightly.
“In that ‘96 platform, there was specific reference to ‘conscience.’ You will not find that word in the Democratic platform in 2016,” he added.
The 2016 language describes “abortion on demand to be a social good worthy of explicit government support with tax dollars from everyone,” added Dr. Charles Camosy, a theology professor at Fordham University.
“I don’t think anyone who is on the side of justice for the vulnerable, of non-violence, could support something like that,” he told CNA.
“The abortion plank in the 2016 Democratic platform effectively marginalizes the voices of 21 million pro-life Democrats,” Kristen Day, executive director of the group Democrats for Life of America, wrote in a Los Angeles Times op-ed with Camosy.
One positive proposal in the platform was “paid family leave,” Camosy said. The platform calls for “national paid family and medical leave” where employees could receive at least 12 weeks of paid leave for childbirth or for a “serious” health problem of their own or of a family member.
The issue of “family leave” is “something that I think is implied in Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical letter Laborem Exercens,” Camosy said, “when he says that society’s social structures need to be oriented to allow women to serve both their vocation as a mother and as a professional, or worker.”
“And right now, they’re not,” he added, noting that the U.S. ranks behind other developed countries in offering paid maternity leave.
At the Republican National Convention, Ivanka Trump, the daughter of GOP nominee Donald Trump, also brought up working mothers in a speech that discussed wage discrepancies for married women.
Camosy hopes that issue “is something that maybe pro-lifers and certain kinds of Republicans and almost every Democrat could agree on, as a way of not only honoring women per ‘Laborem Exercens,’ but also creating conditions that would make abortion less likely to be chosen.”
On LGBT issues, the Democratic platform reiterates its support for “gay marriage” but also says there is more work to be done in preventing discrimination.
Some critics voiced concern over language that could be viewed as pitting religious freedom against LGBT interests. The platform says, “We support a progressive vision of religious freedom that respects pluralism and rejects the misuse of religion to discriminate.”
The religious freedom section itself primarily focuses on Trump’s “vilification of Muslims,” and condemns any “religious test” administered to immigrants or refugees seeking entry into the U.S. Trump has suggested the policy of a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country as a security measure.
“It violates the religious freedom that is the bedrock of our country and feeds into ISIS’ nefarious narrative. It also alienates people and countries who are crucial to defeating terrorism; the vast majority of Muslims believe in a future of peace and tolerance,” the platform stated.
Michael Wear stressed the need to transcend partisan divides on religious freedom, and not simply recognize some concerns – like a Muslim ban or churches not being able to serve undocumented immigrants – but ignore other concerns, like adoption agencies being forced to close down because they won’t match children with same-sex couples.
“Religious freedom has become so polarized” and “so politicized,” he told CNA. “People of faith” need to start telling their stories, and explaining their contributions to society before they are marginalized from the public square.
“It’s a sincere problem when people think that if Catholic hospitals are no longer able to operate, the free market would fill in the gaps,” he said. “That’s not true. That’s not true in a state like Washington, where they provide over half of the hospital beds.”
“And so there needs to be, I think, an authentic, free, but public way of sharing the pivotal role that we play in this country. And it’s discordant to talk about helping immigrants, and then not appreciate Catholic Relief Services.”
On immigration, the platform emphasizes a “path to citizenship for law-abiding families who are here,” halting roundups, providing “due process” for migrants “fleeing violence in Central America,” and ending family detention centers.
Jeanne Atkinson of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network was “thrilled” with the platform’s immigration plank, hailing its referral to immigrants as “leaders” and its statement of “concrete policy positions.”
The platform showed an “emphasis on family,” she said, noting its call for ending family detention centers and insistence on keeping immigrant families together. “For the Catholic Church, that’s who we are,” she said.
Despite its promises of immigration reform, the Obama administration has drawn criticism from reform advocates for its deportations, particularly its raids on and deportations of migrant families.
“That’s absolutely always a risk,” Atkinson said, acknowledging her concerns of the current administration and a future president not following the party’s immigration platform. However, the platform serves as a good “advocacy tool” that they can use when talking to the administration, she said.
Criminal justice reform is also mentioned in the platform, with policy proposals like reform of mandatory minimums to grant judges more flexibility in sentencing certain offenders, support of the “ban the box” initiative, and “restoring voting rights” to felons after they have served their sentences.
Marijuana should be moved from its status as a “Schedule 1” drug and placed on a “pathway” to “legalization,” the platform continued.
One section of the document deals with “investing in rural America.” The group Catholic Rural Life was pleased that “the agricultural policies relating to greater support for family farms, conservation programs and beginning farmers and ranchers.”
Robert Gronski, policy coordinator for Catholic Rural Life, also praised “the environmental positions for clean energy, using farm-based bio-energy fuel sources.”
“Catholic Rural Life is heartened by the attention given to the situation of farmworkers in our country,” he added. “We began raising the concern about the effects of pesticides and herbicides on farmworkers who are tasked with applying these chemicals, yet not always properly trained or given proper protective attire. It is good to see this mentioned specifically in the platform.”