CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Inside the convention hall Tuesday, Democrats affirmed themselves as the pro-choice party, delivering the most detailed discussion of contraceptives and reproductive health in major-party political history and adopting a platform that defends abortion, including taxpayer funding for the procedure.
But outside the hall, a small group of pro-life Democrats pleaded for the party to soften that stance, arguing that it will doom the party to minority status in the House.
"It's so important we have those pro-life Democrats. We'll never get to be a majority again unless we have pro-life Democrats," said former Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who fought President Obama to include stiffer pro-life protections in his health care initiative — and who took fire from both sides for the deal he struck.
Mr. Stupak is part of Democrats for Life of America, the party's small pro-life advocacy group, which drew about two dozen pro-life Democrats — and about as many reporters — to a policy session Tuesday morning, where they said the party has a winning pro-life message of social welfare, if only it would use it.
The organization has crunched the numbers over the past three decades and said pro-choice Democrats averaged about 176 members of the House during that time — well short of the 218 needed to win control of the chamber.
Their plea is falling on deaf ears in a year when Democrats believe the issue of abortion rights is the key to winning over female voters who otherwise might be receptive to the economic message of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Even in an election that all sides say is about the economy, Democrats used their convention's Tuesday session to focus heavily on abortion and contraception — dipping into exceptional detail with mention of rape, ultrasounds and birth control options.
Nancy Keenan, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League — Pro-Choice America told delegates to talk to their neighbors about birth control and reproductive choices.
House Democrats took to the stage to highlight the fight over Mr. Obama's policy requiring businesses to pay for insurance covering contraceptives.
"When my Republican colleagues held a hearing about birth control and refused — refused — to include one single woman on the first panel as a witness to speak to the concerns of women, I asked, 'Where are the women?'" said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney of New York. "You're here. Now the women of America are here, and we're on our way to re-elect our president."
Democrats showed a video highlighting Mr. Romney's former support of abortion rights and a clip of a 1994 Senate debate between him and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, when Mr. Kennedy accused the Republican of being not pro-choice, but "multiple choice" on the issue.
Later this week, Democrats will hear from Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University law student who was denied the chance to testify to the congressional panel cited by Ms. Maloney.
Indeed, polling suggests that Democrats' attacks on Republicans are working, at least among female voters. Polling shows Mr. Obama winning the support of an overwhelming percentage of women, though Mr. Romney wins a giant proportion of male voters, leaving the two candidates neck and neck.
Abortion is a perennial issue in national politics, but this year it has taken a sharp tone over Mr. Obama's contraceptive policy, issued by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Opponents said the policy will force religiously affiliated schools, hospitals and social welfare organizations to pay for contraceptive coverage — including potentially abortifacients — to which they have moral objections.
Mr. Stupak said he agrees with that — particularly when it comes to a certain type of morning-after pill. He said the morning-after pill violates the deal he struck with the president in order to get pro-life Democrats' support for the health care legislation.
"Not only does that HHS mandate violate the executive order, it violates federal law," Mr. Stupak said. "I think it's illegal."
Pro-life advocacy groups blasted Democrats for their platform.
"The message the Democrats are giving today is abortion at any time during a pregnancy, for any reason, and by the way, taxpayers are going to pay for it," said former Rep. Marilyn Musgrave, a Colorado Republican who is now vice president at the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports pro-life lawmakers.
Ms. Musgrave said Democrats' appeal to women may work on a superficial level, but that when female voters dig deeper, they see Democrats' abortion message is not inclusive.
"It's one of my goals at SBA List to chip away at this image and show the pro-abortion crowd is not really about comprehensive health care for women, they're all about abortion, and they're really anti-choice, because the only choice they offer is abortion — abortion on demand," she said.
The Susan B. Anthony List says it desperately searches for pro-life Democrats to back, but that many of them supported the health care legislation, which pro-life advocates think didn't properly segregate public funding so that taxpayer money can go to pay for abortions.
Both parties are becoming more polarized on the issue, at least in their leadership and elected officials.
With the exception of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who describes herself as "mildly pro-choice," it was tough to find a prominent speaker at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., who broke from conservative orthodoxy. The Republican platform, overseen by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, carried the same strong pro-life language as the platforms of 2004 and 2008.
In Charlotte, meanwhile, former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Catholic who describes himself as pro-life, spoke Tuesday evening, but other prominent pro-life Democrats were in short supply.
The purge of pro-life Democrats is occurring at all levels.
In August, the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Wisconsin's legislature lost their primaries to more liberal candidates, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Those Democrats fell victim to a push by liberal advocacy groups to oust moderates, and to redistricting, in which the GOP drew more partisan lines that meant there are also no more pro-choice Republicans in the Legislature.
Last month, while attacking the Republican platform for being too extreme on abortion, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said her own party's platform would have inclusive language recognizing pro-life opinions.
But the platform the party adopted Tuesday defends abortion rights in unequivocal language and seems to endorse taxpayer funding for poor women.
"That's not big tent," said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life.
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