- The Washington Times - Monday, September 15, 2008





In an historic decision that will further inflame the national debate on abortion, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals decided June 21 that an amendment to South Dakota’s “Women’s Right to Know Law” is constitutional. The ruling requires that a woman intending an abortion be told that “the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being.”

This federal circuit court decision would have delighted the late Robert Casey, governor of Pennsylvania from 1987 to 1994. I was privileged to know Mr. Casey. He was the very model of a public official devoted to protecting all human life before and after birth. He instituted school-based full-day child-care programs for infants and preschoolers, including for poor kids. Mr. Casey also signed legislation that guaranteed health insurance for children whose families’ incomes were too high for public assistance but nonetheless insufficient to buy health insurance.

The governor’s concern for women’s health care included his requirement that HMOs pay for annual mammograms for women over age 40 and for state funding of screening. Renowned Harvard University pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton called Mr. Casey’s health-care programs for women and children “a model for the rest of the country.” As for civil rights, under Mr. Casey’s leadership, more women were appointed to his cabinet than by any other governor in the country. He appointed the first black woman to sit on a state supreme court, and state contracts to women and minority firms increased by more than 1,500 percent. Yet, when he died, The New York Times and The Washington Post called him a “conservative Democrat.” Why? Because he was pro-life? Mr. Casey once told me he had fully expected to be a speaker at the 1992 Democratic Convention that eventually nominated Bill Clinton. Actually, with his having accomplished what many Democratic governors have only promised, Mr. Casey thought he might well be invited to be the convention’s keynote speaker.

The best Mr. Clinton’s team of strategists would do for him was to allow him to attend. Mr. Casey was not permitted to speak as a heretically principled pro-lifer. Explained Ron Brown, chief convention organizer: “Your views are out of line with most Americans.” Despite the fact there were and are pro-life Democrats, Mr. Casey was not only gagged, but on stage at the Democratic convention was the prominent pro-choice Pennsylvania Republican Kathy Taylor, who had actively helped defeat the governor’s progressive tax reforms.

To say that Mr. Casey was infuriated is an understatement. “What has become,” he said, “of the Democratic Party I once knew?” But he remained a Democrat because, he said, he did not trust the Republicans to do nearly enough for children in need after they were born.

Later, at my invitation on behalf of the Village Voice, Mr. Casey spoke at Cooper Union in New York about his Democratic vision, and a large, clamorous crowd of self-described pro-choicers ultimately shouted him and me down. I wanted to call the cops, but he wouldn’t agree.

At this year’s Democratic convention in Denver, Mr. Casey’s son, Sen. Robert Casey Jr., was a very welcome speaker, having vigorously campaigned with Sen. Barack Obama in Pennsylvania. Bob Casey, as his constituents know him, began his nationally televised endorsement of Mr. Obama, “I speak to you tonight as Gov. Casey’s son, and a proud supporter of Barack Obama.” Did Bob Casey believe that everyone knows his father was humiliated at the 1992 Democratic Convention? Was that why he omitted that fact in his speech? But for many, that elephant was in the room.

Continuing, Mr. Casey said of his time on the road with the Democratic presidential candidate in Pennsylvania, “Everywhere we went, people said, ‘He’s one of us.’ ” He didn’t define “us.” Then the shoe dropped, sort of: “Now, Sen. Barack Obama and I,” Mr. Casey told the convention, “have an honest disagreement on the issue of abortion. But the fact that I’m speaking here is testament to Barack’s ability to show respect for the views of people who may disagree with him. I know Barack Obama. And I believe that as president, he’ll pursue the common good by seeking common ground (on this issue) rather than trying to divide us.”

I waited expectantly to hear how common ground would be found on the now widely known fact that while in a senator in the Illinois legislature, Mr. Obama voted several times against a bill with this language: “A live child born as a result of an abortion (a botched abortion) shall be fully recognized as a human person and accorded immediate protection under the law.” Is Mr. Casey going to tell us where and how he has found common ground with Mr. Obama on this death penalty to babies born alive?

I reported on such a case when a nurse protested as she was ordered by the doctor to put one of those unexpected in a pail in an adjoining room, where it would be disposed of. The child was not considered “one of us.” During his speech at the Democratic convention, Mr. Casey recalled: “A long time ago, my father, Gov. Casey, used to say this. He said the ultimate question for those in public office is this, a very simple question what did you do when you had the power?” We know what Mr. Obama did in the Illinois legislature when he had the power to prevent the destruction of live-born babies. But Mr. Casey insists that, as president of the United States, Mr. Obama will bring us together on abortion by providing help to pregnant women. To be continued: On the Democratic presidential candidate and his party’s plan to find that magical common ground.

Nat Hentoff’s column for The Washington Times appears on Mondays.

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