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State-Level Democrats Revolt Against National Leaders’ Abortion Extremism


National Democratic leaders and presidential candidates continue to embrace radical positions on life issues. But grassroots Democrats are resisting the national party’s platform where the voters live: the states.

In 2019, prominent Democratic figures have gone to extremes to embrace fringe life-issue positions such as late-term abortions and infanticide. In January, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D–NY) signed a bill to cement the central holdings of Roe v. Wade as state law. In lockstep with other Democratic leaders, Cuomo deployed “health” as an undefined, catch-all term to open the door for abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Moreover, he repealed protections for infants born alive that formerly entitled them to all life-sustaining efforts.

Eight days later, Gov. Ralph Northam (D–VA) endorsed the removal of third-trimester abortion restrictions through labor and delivery. Northam argued that physicians should deliver the infant alive when the mother is in labor, then keep the infant comfortable, he said. Then, if the mother desires, physicians should resuscitate the child, or leave the child to die. He said at that point the physician and the mother should discuss how to proceed—i.e., whether to kill or care for the infant.

Merely 13 percent of Americans support national Democratic leaders’ position on third-trimester abortion. Nevertheless, Democratic presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg favor third-trimester abortion. They aren’t alone on this in the Democratic presidential field.

On January 31, 2019, Sen. Ben Sasse (R–NE) introduced the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. Under the bill, infants born alive after surviving an attempted abortion are legal persons under American law and entitled to all legal protections thereunder. Moreover, the bill would entitle infants to the same level of care as any other patient.

However, Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate voted against the bill. Sens. Cory Booker (D–NJ), Kirsten Gillibrand (D–NY), Kamala Harris (D–CA), Amy Klobuchar (D–MN), Bernie Sanders (I–VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D–MA) voted against the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. Yet, 87 percent of Americans reject third-trimester abortions. Seventy-seven percent of voters support born-alive infant protections. Now grassroots Democrats are taking notice.

Some Democrats, At the State Level, Have the Right Idea

In Ohio, all Democratic state senators approved a bipartisan resolution to urge the U.S. Congress to adopt Sasse’s Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act. In New Mexico, legislators attempted to enact third-trimester abortion legislation similar to the proposals advanced in New York and Virginia. However, New Mexico’s Democrat-led Senate delivered a blow to the national party by voting against the measure.

North Carolina’s General Assembly passed the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act on April 16, 2019. Four House and two Senate Democrats voted in favor of the bill. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the measure. Republicans and supportive Democrats must seek additional support from other Democratic lawmakers to build a veto-proof super-majority.

Arkansas saw three Democrats join Republicans to pass the Cherish Act, which banned abortion after 18 weeks except in cases of rape and incest. Moreover, the Cherish Act required abortion providers to determine the unborn child’s probable gestational age prior to inducing or performing an abortion. Previously, Arkansas banned abortion after 20 weeks of gestation in a mother’s womb.

Florida Democrat Kim Daniels voted to advance HB 1335 from the Judiciary Committee. HB 1335 requires minors to obtain parental or legal guardian consent prior to the abortion procedure. Minors may petition the corresponding circuit court and obtain court-appointed counsel to request that the court waive the consent requirement. HB 1335 has passed the Florida House and is pending in the state’s Senate.

In 2018, 27 percent of West Virginia Democratic lawmakers voted to place Amendment 1 on the ballot. Amendment 1 establishes that “nothing in the [West Virginia] Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion.” West Virginians, a narrow majority of whom are registered Democrats, approved the amendment.

Rhode Island lawmakers are deliberating over H5125, which would codify Roe v. Wade’s central holdings of abortion on request as state law. The bill advanced to the Rhode Island Senate Judiciary Committee by a 44-30 margin. However, 22 Democratic state representatives voted against the bill, which faces another test in the Rhode Island Senate.

In Tennessee, Democratic state Reps. Joe Towns, John Windle, and John DeBerry voted in favor of HB 0077. Under HB 0077, abortion is prohibited once the unborn child’s heartbeat is detected, except in certain medical emergencies. The Tennessee Senate deferred the bill for a study. Towns’s vote irked Planned Parenthood. In 2018, Towns sought and received Planned Parenthood’s endorsement. Planned Parenthood revoked its endorsement of Towns and is pursuing a challenger to his seat.

Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson, a Democrat, continues to challenge the national Democratic Party’s status quo. Jackson joined U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D–IL) as one of two elected, pro-life Democratic speakers at the 2019 March for Life.

Jackson sponsored Louisiana Act 620 in 2014. Under Act 620, Louisiana abortion providers must have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their clinic. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily blocked Act 620 from going into effect, by a 5-4 vote. On April 17, 2019, the pro-abortion group Center for Reproductive Rights petitioned the court for a writ of certiorari. Jackson laid the groundwork for what may be the first major pro-life case heard by the new court.

A Democratic Party Divided

Grassroots Democrats must come to terms with the national Democratic Party’s radical positions on life issues. Democratic leaders and presidential candidates continue to double down on late-term abortion on demand.

Infanticide is alarmingly close to becoming Democratic Party orthodoxy, if it has not already. But many grassroots Democrats continue to listen to their consciences and their constituents. More than three-quarters of voters support born-alive abortion protections. Meanwhile, 62 percent of voters oppose legislation that authorizes late-term abortions. And Americans increasingly identify as pro-life.

Life issues are not a Democrat or Republican issue. They are a bipartisan issue, and both sides are welcome to the right side of history. The gap between the extremism of the national leadership of the Democratic Party and the votes of the party grassroots across the country offers persuasive proof.