Democratic Convention Downplays Abortion | National Review

Former Vice President Joe Biden accepts the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination during a speech delivered for the Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Del., August 20, 2020. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

The 2020 DNC was a stark contrast to earlier conventions.


ransport yourself back in time to May 2019 and imagine you had been told that the 2020 Democratic National Convention would take a muted approach to the issue of abortion. This prediction would have been shocking.

The 2012 Democratic convention, amid the “war on women” and the travails of Sandra Fluke, was a rip-roaring abortion jamboree.

The 2016 Democratic convention somehow managed to be an even more pro-abortion extravaganza: The party platform called explicitly, for the first time, to provide unlimited taxpayer-funding of abortion for Medicaid recipients, a plank one Democratic senator called “crazy.” The president of Planned Parenthood was given an 8:00 p.m. speaking slot. The leader of NARAL spoke onstage about the time she aborted her first child, not because of any medical issue but because it was an inconvenient time to have a child, and the crowd cheered.

In May 2019, several states across the South had just passed laws that would ban abortion when a baby’s heartbeat is detectable early in pregnancy (if the federal courts allowed states to govern themselves on this issue). Democratic activists were panicked and outraged. One would have reasonably thought the 2020 Democratic convention would have put the “war on women” front and center.

But that didn’t happen. There were some brief mentions of “codifying Roe v. Wade” and “reproductive justice” scattered throughout the four nights of speeches — but nothing rhetorically close to the 2012 or 2016 DNC in terms of its emphasis on abortion.

There are at least three reasons for that.

First, due to the cancellation of the in-person convention, the time for speeches was consolidated to only two hours, from 9:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. That format meant the DNC couldn’t pull off what was done in earlier conventions: red-meat speeches to rile up the base during the day and earlier in the evening, before switching to themes with broader appeal when network news channels began carrying speeches in primetime.

Second, any focus on abortion would have invited a discussion of Joe Biden’s flip-flop on the Hyde amendment, the measure that since 1976 has banned federal funding of abortion for Medicaid recipients. For four decades, Biden portrayed his support of the Hyde amendment as a fundamental matter of conscience, only to abandon it under pressure from Democratic activists in June 2019.

The Hyde amendment has been America’s most important pro-life policy for four decades: By one estimate, it has saved 50,000 lives from abortion each year. It is also popular: A poll on the eve of the 2016 election showed Americans supported it 58 percent to 36 percent.

A major story at the 2016 Democratic convention was about vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine, the Virginia senator and a Catholic, tying himself in knots to explain his own flip-flop on the Hyde amendment. So it’s understandable why the 2020 DNC would downplay the issue of abortion in order to avoid offending Catholics, Republicans, and moderates opposed to taxpayer-funding of abortion.

It’s also understandable why big shots at Planned Parenthood and NARAL were willing to tolerate the relative silence: The party platform calling for the repeal of the Hyde amendment hasn’t changed, and they are closer than ever to actually getting what they want.

Although the Hyde amendment survived Democratic sweeps in 1992 and 2008, it would likely be repealed in 2021 if Democrats control both chambers of Congress and the White House. Activists just have to be quiet and hope swing voters don’t think too much about the consequences of unified Democratic control of government.

But even if Biden’s flip-flop on the Hyde amendment weren’t an issue, there is another reason why the nominee and others in charge of the 2020 Democratic convention would want to minimize discussion of abortion.

Amid the pandemic that has taken 170,000 American lives, a major theme of the convention was the dignity and worth of every human life. Vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris spoke on Wednesday night about the Biden–Harris commitment to “a vision of our nation as a Beloved Community — where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love. A country where we may not agree on every detail, but we are united by the fundamental belief that every human being is of infinite worth, deserving of compassion, dignity and respect.”

Biden said in his acceptance speech that “as God’s children each of us have a purpose in our lives.” He spoke of the need for America to “finally live up to and make real the words written in the sacred documents that founded this nation that all men and women are created equal. Endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

He promised: “I will stand always for our values of human rights and dignity.”

How could Biden speak these words in one breath and in the next breath endorse the legal right to kill some human beings? He couldn’t. And he didn’t. The fundamental contradiction would have simply been too jarring.

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