As the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh are underway, the fight over abortion will once again be portrayed as a strictly partisan issue. Increasingly, that’s exactly what it is.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez declared last year: “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. … That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.” Last month, NBC News reported on efforts in Rhode Island, a state that’s 42 percent Catholic, to move pro-life Democratic elected officials aside in favor of pro-choice candidates.
Politico Magazine recently reported the Democratic Party’s pollsters, fundraisers, and vendors are balking at collaborating with anti-abortion candidates for fear of falling out of favor (and business) with the rest of the party. “If you’re trying to raise money on the national level, it gets very difficult,” said former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.). “There will be no money, there will be no help.”
If you’re a pro-life progressive like me, you read this and think the Democratic Party is playing with fire, and sooner or later it’s going to get burned.
Yes, I’m a progressive. I believe in a strong social safety net, universal health care, equality of the sexes in the workplace and elsewhere, and same-sex marriage and adoption rights. Before voting for Hillary Clinton in the general election, I supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary and, like him, describe myself as a democratic socialist.
But on abortion, I break with most liberals and Democrats. This is not a religious position, but merely a deeply held conviction that life is too precious to be prematurely ended under anything but the most extreme circumstances. Namely, I believe that rape, incest, or threat to the mother’s health are legitimate reasons for terminating a pregnancy, but past that I value life over the broad array of other situations comprising the pro-choice view.
I realize the pro-abortion position is going to stay most Democrats’ default stance. A 2017 Pew survey found 75 percent of Democrats say abortion should be “legal in all/most cases.” But for a party, and a larger progressive movement, that espouses and celebrates tolerance, I’m dismayed that Democratic voters and party leaders can’t seem to tolerate, or at least co-exist with, views on abortion that diverge from their own orthodoxy. If there’s no room for people like me, it ultimately weakens the Democratic Party and progressive causes, because like-minded candidates either won’t, or won’t be able to, run for office.
True to Perez’s comments, there has been, and continues to be, nothing short of a full-scale purge of pro-life Democrats. According to Vice, 64 congressional Democrats in the House of Representatives expressed concerns over the Affordable Care Act in 2009 because they wanted more restrictions on abortion. Just 12 of the 64 remain in Congress today and, by the beginning of this year, exactly zero of the 91 House seats Democrats deemed flippable were being sought by pro-life candidates. Ditto for Democratic challengers in competitive Senate races.
Heading into the midterms, this aversion to pro-life candidates may cost the Democrats dearly. In fact, it nearly has already.
In Illinois’ 3rd Congressional District, one of the few remaining pro-life Democratic congressmen, Rep. Dan Lipiniski, narrowly overcame a primary challenger backed heavily by pro-choice groups. He’s held the socially conservative district for seven terms, and is now considered safe in the general. Had the pro-choice hardliners had their way, the seat would have been far more competitive in November, depriving Democrats of an established, popular incumbent whose values match a large portion of his constituency.
In Pennsylvania’s recently redrawn 7th Congressional District, the Democratic primary included a pro-life candidate named John Morganelli. He was narrowly defeated after billionaire Donald Trump impeachment enthusiast Tom Steyer threw his financial heft into denying him the nomination through attack ads on his pro-life stance. Morganelli placed a close second.
He was denied the Democratic nod in a district that is more winnable for Democrats thanks to the redraw, but still leans conservative. For Democrats, a situation like this should scream, “Run a moderate!” Whether the Democrat nominee, former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild, ends up being too liberal for the district remains to be seen; RealClearPolitics deems the contest a toss-up.
Alarmingly, some candidates are even being litmus-tested for not being pro-choice enough. In Texas — not exactly a liberal stronghold — the Democratic gubernatorial primary pitted the passionately pro-choice Lupe Valdez against the moderate Democrat Andrew White, who despite being personally opposed to abortion has fully supported abortion.
That wasn’t good enough for Valdez, who went so far as to demand he apologize to women for this position. Primary voters apparently agreed, and have been rewarded with a nominee whose 13-point polling deficit portends near-certain Democratic defeat come November.
If Democrats continue along this path, there will be two consequences. First, and most immediately, the party will lose seats in moderate districts and states. Second, turnout from pro-life Democrats will decrease, especially once the motivating electoral emergency of neutering Trump’s power is behind them. Why? Because folks aren’t inclined to vote for you when you tell them their deeply held convictions aren’t welcome at your table. Disagreement is one thing; disownment quite another.
Pro-life voters like me are a marked minority in the Democratic Party. But there’s a pivotal difference between having a minority voice and having no voice whatsoever. Especially if the Republican Party regains its senses post-Trump, silencing, railroading, and otherwise alienating pro-life progressives can and will come back to haunt Democrats.