Democrats aiming to woo pro-life voters have added new language to the party platform calling for taxpayer-funded efforts to reduce the number of abortions.
Although the platform retains its traditional statement supporting "a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion," the party's platform committee approved new wording last week in Pittsburgh that some Catholics and evangelicals say is a "significant step" toward reaching out to abortion opponents.
The platform language calls for more government programs, income assistance and adoption services to aid a woman's decision to have a child.
"The Democratic Platform Committee really reached out to moderate religious leaders from evangelical and Catholic religious communities. The resulting language on abortion is a real step forward that provides some sorely needed common ground around reducing the need for abortion," the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, a liberal religious group, said Tuesday.
"The new language around this is a significant shift for the Democratic Party," Mr. Wallis' group said.
Pro-life organizations Tuesday said they saw little difference in the new wording, although pro-choice activists opposed it.
"They still want abortions on demand, and they want taxpayers to pay for abortions," said David Nammo, executive director of the pro-life Family Research Council's political arm.
The key provision, which the party's presidential nominating convention is expected to ratify in Denver later this month, 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."
The 2004 platform was less ecumenical in its outreach: "We strongly support family planning and adoption incentives. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare," it said.
Tony Perkins, Family Research Council president, said Democrats have tripled the words to unequivocally support Roe v. Wade and appear to be trying to loosen the rhetoric rather than reflect newfound values in human life.
However, he thinks the new platform language "can work" on the margins for the Democrats.
"This works only against a candidate like John McCain who doesn't like to talk about these issues," he said.
Mr. Wallis' organization, which has close ties to the campaign of the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Sen. Barack Obama, was promoting the new language Tuesday in a teleconference with evangelical and Catholic leaders.
"Pro-life voters of either party can now support Senator Obama on the basis that more lives will be saved than if they had just taken a moral stand hoping to overturn Roe v. Wade," said the Rev. Joel Hunter, senior pastor of the Northland Church in Orlando, Fla., and former president of the Christian Coalition.
"Cynical partisan profiteers will find fault with the tone of this plank, but knowing the battle that went into the insertion of the new language, I am very encouraged that Democrats have widened their public support of mothers who choose life," Mr. Hunter said.
The Obama campaign said earlier this week that polls show presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain narrowly leading among evangelicals but that these surveys also showed Mr. Obama leading among 17 other faith groups. Exit polls conducted during the primaries, however, showed that Mr. Obama had little support among Catholic voters — a group that is being targeted by the new platform language.
Despite the Democrats' efforts to seek "common ground" with pro-lifers, the party's campaign document reaffirmed that it "strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of the ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right."
The Conference of Catholic Bishops said it hasn't changed the Democratic Party's position.
"The Democratic platform persists in its unapologetic promotion of abortion, which kills unborn children and harms all those involved. Affirming the good of childbirth and adoption does not justify — or in any way soften — the party's official support for an intrinsic evil," said Deirdre McQuade, spokeswoman for the Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Some women's groups within the Democrats' liberal ranks were not happy with the direction of their party's abortion language.
"It's been our view as Democrats that women should make their decisions based on their moral values," former NARAL Pro-Choice America President Kate Michelman told the New Republic in this week's issue.
"The pro-life Democrats' language is a means to an end, and the end is to limit abortion."