DENVER-Susan Brooks looked angry as she stood in front of a slate of dark blue signs reading "Pro-family: Pro-Obama" in the Colorado Convention Center Tuesday. The Chicago Theological Seminary professor introduced herself to some 200 people gathered for a faith caucus at the Democratic National Convention this way: "I've been a pastor for 35 years, and I'm in favor of choice."
Applause and "Amens" broke out across the room of people gathered for an afternoon forum on how faith relates to politics. Brooks was tapped to advocate a pro-abortion position at the panel discussion moderated by left-leaning evangelical Jim Wallis, and her voice quickly sharpened: "What kind of choice is it when a woman has to choose between terminating a pregnancy or being poor?" she asked. "What kind of choice is it if you don't have pre-natal care?"
As Brooks voice rose, so did two men sitting several rows from the front. "Is a baby a choice?" shouted one. Brooks pressed on, but so did the second man: "Isn't abortion murder?"
The dueling continued and the audience grew agitated: Some chanted "Go Susan," others shook their heads, and one shouted at the men: "You have the choice to leave this room." A convention staffer with a nervous smile asked the protesters to leave. They complied, and Brooks continued: "This is an example of a lack of common ground."
It's also an example of the kinds of confrontations that have marked the first two days of the Democratic convention. At the convention's first event-an interfaith prayer gathering-Randall Terry and two members of Operation Rescue drew loud boos when they interrupted the event by shouting that Sen. Barack Obama is "a baby killer." Some in the crowd responded with chants of: "O-bam-a." Police removed the protesters, but didn't arrest them.
Earlier Tuesday, police did arrest Terry and nearly three-dozen activists for blocking a security entrance near the convention. (Terry announced his plans for arrest in advance.)
Outside the Colorado Convention Center, members of Terry's group continue to confront hundreds of passersby with bullhorns and banners plastered with pictures of aborted children and slogans like: "A vote for Obama is a vote for dead children." When one passerby told the men he would listen if they would talk instead of scream, one activist continued shouting into the bullhorn. Meanwhile, Terry gave a reporter a copy of his pro-life book titled A Humble Plea.
If Democrats were looking for an extreme example of pro-life activists, they've found it. But in other corners of downtown Denver, less strident protests unfolded. Nearly 2,500 people marched around a new Planned Parenthood clinic Monday night in a protest organized by the Archdiocese of Denver (pictured above). Aleveda King, niece of the late Martin Luther King Jr., told the crowd she doesn't plan to vote for Obama unless he changes his position on abortion.
That doesn't seem likely. Obama has pledged his ironclad commitment to upholding Roe v. Wade, and the Democratic Party platform declares its unequivocal support for legalized abortion.
But the platform also contains new language pledging support for women facing unplanned pregnancies, and Democrats hope that the addition will draw evangelical and other religious voters into the Democratic camp. Evangelical leaders like Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Fla., contend that the Democratic approach will save more unborn lives than Republican opposition to Roe v. Wade since it includes support for mothers in need.
Shaun Casey, evangelical coordinator for the Obama campaign, told WORLD that promise of "abortion reduction" is the heart of his message to evangelicals, even those who say they can't dismiss Obama's pro-abortion positions: "At the end of the day, if you believe abortion is wrong, then you've got to take seriously a political message that says we're going to work to reduce that, compared to a political message from the Republican Party that's actually not going to do that."
Many evangelicals won't be pleased with that message, but neither are all Democrats. Marjorie Signer of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice shook her head as she heard Casey's talking points. "What these guys are saying about reducing the number of abortions is all wrong," she told WORLD. Signer says Democrats should instead talk about "reducing the need" for abortion."
It's a distinction she thinks is critical: Signer says women should have access to resources to keep their unborn children, but retain the option to abort no matter what. After all, she points out: "You could reduce the number of abortions right now by closing down the clinics."
Other reports from the Democratic National Convention:
Opening Ceremonies: The Democratic National Convention opens in Denver, as the party takes steps to reach out to religious voters