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People hold pro-abortion signs as Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, speaks at the 2012 Democratic National Convention
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
People hold pro-abortion signs as Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, speaks at the 2012 Democratic National Convention

Social convention

Marriage | The Democratic National Convention revealed the heart and soul of the party, and it has little to do with economics. Will top priorities—free contraception, redefining marriage, and promoting abortion—continue to get top billing?

Issue: "Reassessing the genome," Oct. 6, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—On the corner of 5th Street and College Street in downtown Charlotte, N.C., an ugly scene unfolded on the first morning of the Democratic National Convention in early September.

It began when a few dozen Planned Parenthood activists in pink T-shirts marched to the usually staid intersection after they couldn’t clear security barriers for a larger rally outside the nearby NASCAR Hall of Fame.

By the time the diverted activists reached the corner, they discovered a much smaller group of pro-life demonstrators directly across the street. The pro-life activists included at least five small children. Adults in the group displayed graphic images of aborted children, and one man declared through a megaphone: “Unless you repent, you will be cast into hell.”

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The pro-abortion group responded with shaking fists and shouts of their own: “Right to life/You lie/You don’t care if women die.” Later they chanted: “Obama.” As the tension escalated, nearly three dozen police officers descended on the intersection, creating a buffer that resembled a militarized zone.

As the crowd grew angrier, I asked pro-life activist Michael Marcavage about the effectiveness of his methods. “We go to holocaust museums and see photos of murder,” he said. “Abortion is a holocaust.”

Megan Wilson wasn’t persuaded. The 17-year-old high-school senior from Washington state traveled here with the Junior Statesmen of America to attend convention events and learn about politics. She grew visibly shaken at the pro-life activists: “I think it’s hypocrisy of the highest form to say that a fetus matters more than a human life.”

It was an argument repeated throughout the convention. One of the most aggressively pro-abortion political conventions in history painted pro-life supporters as anti-birth-control extremists bent on hurting women and disregarding the needy. It’s unclear whether Democrats will carry that theme through the general election season, but it’s an idea that rallied the party’s base in Charlotte.

Wilson summarized part of the argument: “There are people out there with fully formed brains and hearts and lungs who are dying—who live on our streets in poverty. They should have rights, but they don’t because no one cares about them.”

A few blocks away, a Bible verse hung over the door of The King’s Kitchen restaurant: “He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given.”

Inside the popular downtown eatery, Phillip Lewis was busy frying chicken and serving up heaping plates of collard greens and creamed potatoes. Less than 18 months ago, Lewis lived on the streets of downtown Charlotte, bouncing between a homeless shelter and a housing ministry.

After Lewis met restaurant owner Jim Noble—a pro-life evangelical with two other successful restaurants in Charlotte—Noble offered him a job working in The King’s Kitchen. The restaurant donates its profits (and much of its food) to feeding the homeless, and devotes behind-the-scenes efforts to mentoring needy men and women in need of jobs.

Lewis started by washing dishes. A year later, he is the restaurant’s best line cook. He rents a duplex nearby, and dreams of opening his own diner. Lewis says Noble’s spiritual and practical help compelled him to succeed: “If you’re really going to help somebody, you have to care.”

Noble’s work is one example of several Christian ministries in the city that care for the needy. A local pregnancy care center serves thousands of clients each year. Lois’ Lodge—a Christian maternity home—offers housing for women facing unplanned pregnancies. And Brookstone School—a nearby, inner-city Christian school—serves needy children in grades K-6 with low-cost education that produces better results than many public schools.

It’s the kind of person-to-person care that Noble says really helps people. “I don’t think that Jesus would be walking around carrying signs and yelling,” he said of the more strident activists at the convention. “I think He’d go to the heart of the problem, which is what we’re trying to do. We’re just looking for those that nobody cares about.”

If Democrats didn’t paint that picture of conservatives at the convention, they also didn’t shy away from attacking on social issues. Indeed, the party that once downplayed its support of legalized abortion and same-sex “marriage” made those issues centerpieces of its message in Charlotte.

It’s a gamble in a Democratic Party that has as many as 21 million members who say they’re pro-life, and in a country that has passed gay-marriage bans in at least 31 states. It’s also a gamble in an election that may hinge on the economy. 

The question ahead of presidential debates that begin on Oct. 3: Will a far-left social agenda hurt Democrats during a time when Americans seem focused on economic problems? And will conservative Republicans respond to the accusations of extremism that may continue until November?

This article has been edited to clarify that the children accompanying pro-life activists in the beginning of the story did not speak through a megaphone. Only one activist declared: “Unless you repent, you will be cast into hell.”

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