Three Giant Steps Backward

In a moment of morning-after madness, politicos within the Democratic Party are taking three giant steps backward from a woman's right to choose. The results could be disastrous for progressive women's political base.

Much of the drama is emerging around the normally staid contest for the chair of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), which will be decided by 447 electors on Feb. 12 at a DNC vote in Washington, D.C. All of the candidates for the position now held by Clinton-ally Terry McAuliffe are men, a large number of whom who are using Lincoln's birthday as the opportunity to distance themselves from reproductive freedom. This comes at the time of greatest peril, when one or two anti-abortion appointments to the Supreme Court could upend the right to privacy protected by Roe v. Wade.

"What are we," asks Eleanor Smeal, president and founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation, "fair-weather friends?" Apparently so.

"We fought like mad to beat back the Republicans," blogged Karen M. White, national political director for EMILY's List, a pro-choice Democratic fundraising machine. "Little did we know that we would have just as much to fear from some within the Democratic Party who seem to be using choice as a scapegoat for our top-of-the-ticket losses."

One of the favored candidates for the DNC chair is former Indiana Rep. Timothy Roemer, who has never found an anti-abortion measure that he didn't like. In his campaign for the position, he called Gloria Feldt, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, to sweet-talk her, arguing that because he was victorious in a "red" state, he'd be a great leader for the Dems. The implication is party first, women second. Feldt didn't buy it. She called upon Democrats to uphold a commitment to "women's rights and health." NARAL Pro-Choice America also announced a national campaign to defeat Roemer.

But Roemer is not without fans in high places. They include Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the pro-choice leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives. And her enthusiasm is shared by her newly selected Senate counterpart, the anti-abortion Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.

But the cruelest cut may be closer to the heart. Pro-choice former presidential candidate Howard Dean is also a contender for the DNC chair. He alarmed pro-choice activists by stating that the Democratic Party needed to be more "inclusive" of pro-lifers.

Other lesser-knowns are in the mix. For a short while Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, flirted with running for DNC chair. Also aspiring to the position are former Texas Rep. Martin Frost, former Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Leland, party activist Donnie Fowler, former Denver mayor Wellington Webb, and Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network. Rosenberg also declared that he is "open to pro-lifers," according to an article in The American Spectator.

The irony is that pro-choice voters are a powerful base in the Democratic Party. More women (51 percent to 48 percent) voted for Kerry over Bush, according to polling by Lake, Snell, Perry and Associates. And despite the oft-repeated declaration that "moral values" swayed voters, further analysis shows that Iraq, terror and the economy were the driving issues for over 70 percent.

In the post-election atmosphere, everyone is positioning. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) called for the Democratic Party to hold fast to a woman's right to choose. But Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) took a surprising turn, praising chastity education, asserting that abortion represents a "sad, even tragic, choice," calling for "common ground" with pro-lifers.

The top gun himself may have started the rampage. During the election, Sen. John Kerry did such a lousy job of articulating his position that even campaign volunteers didn't know he was pro-choice. Soon after he lost, Kerry told a group of progressives that Democrats should be permitted more latitude in supporting the anti-abortion line.

It seems as though these guys don't want to take the rap for their losses – a familiar scenario to multitudes of women: A guy loses a fight in a bar, bumbles home and decides to take it out on his girlfriend instead.

Democrats are counting on the notion that women have nowhere else to go. The Greens are wooing women, and even pro-choice Republicans stuck with a hostile anti-abortion platform are gloating, arguing that pro-choice gals who left might as well come back. Fond memories are floated of the suffragists' National Women's Party. But there are few shelters for this type of domestic political violence.

Activists know the radical right isn't interested in "common ground," but rather the obliteration of sexual and individual liberties. If anything were to brand Democrats as losers, the post-election behavior toward women's rights just might do it.

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