by Steven Ertelt
November 10, 2006
Washington, DC (LifeNews.com) — Pro-life Democrats fared well in Tuesday’s elections but whether they will be able to exert much influence within a party whose Congressional leaders are strongly pro-abortion is another question. Meanwhile, some pro-life advocates are questioning whether the candidate will truly advocate pro-life policies once in office.
Democrats For Life of America says pro-life Democrats succeeded in part because party leaders were more active in recruiting pro-life Democrats for Congress than in previous election cycles.
“Right after John Kerry’s loss in 2004, the Democratic Party finally started talking about including pro-life Democrats in the big tent of the Democratic Party," DFLA executive director Kristen Day tells LifeNews.com.
"Their inclusion helped pro-life Democrats win and played a significant role in handing over control of the US Senate and House," Day said.
Day indicated that one new pro-life Democrat win join the Senate, Pennsylvania’s Bob Casey, and six new pro-life Democrats will head to the House.
However, the election of these new pro-life Democrats doesn’t mean they will replace abortion advocates.
Some pro-life groups are upset that most of the candidates ran against established pro-life lawmakers with long-standing voting records.
Casey, for example, simply knocked off pro-life leader Rick Santorum, the sponsor of the partial-birth abortion ban, while candidates running for the House — such as Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana — merely defeated pro-life lawmakers who had already been pushing for a pro-life agenda.
Darla St. Martin, the associate executive director of National Right to Life, told LifeNews.com that the pro-life Democrats elected Tuesday have no record and she worries their voting habits won’t match their rhetoric.
"As for those Democrats who were elected after running as ‘pro-life,’ the pro-life movement will judge them based not on the label they chose to wear, but on how they vote in the confrontations to come," she explained.
NRLC, which surveys Congressional candidates on their views on a myriad of pro-life issues, sent Schuler a candidate questionnaire to complete. He didn’t return it — which has St. Martin concerned.
Other groups are unsure altogether whether the pro-life Democratic candidates are truly pro-life.
In her email to LifeNews.com, Day celebrated the House elections of Chris Carney and Jason Altmire both of Pennsylvania. Yet, Carney was listed on the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation PAC Voters Guide as pro-abortion and Altmire was labeled as having a mixed position on the issue.
Day told LifeNews.com that, with the election of more pro-life Democrats, her party’s leaders "need to continue to allow pro-life Democrats to help set the agenda in the 110th Congress."
However, that doesn’t appear likely to happen.
Democrats plan to support pro-abortion stalwart Nancy Pelosi as the Speaker of the House and abortion advocate Steny Hoyer of Maryland appears likely to take the number two spot.
And while Day says Pelosi will "govern from the center" one of the first bills she intends to push in the "first 100 hours of business" in the House is a measure forcing taxpayers to pay for embryonic stem cell research.
One question the new pro-life Democrats must answer is how forcefully they will stand up to their party’s pro-abortion leaders when it comes to allowing votes on pro-life issues.
"The Democratic leadership, tied closely to the pro-abortion lobby, will try to prevent votes on measures on which the pro-life side would continue to garner a majority, such as parental notification legislation," St. Martin told LifeNews.com.
And in the Senate, some pro-life advocates have questioned whether Casey, who has said he supports the morning after pill, will vote to support President Bush’s judicial nominees or vote against his party to uphold the president’s veto of funding embryonic stem cell research.
Day says turning over the House to Democratic control will allow pro-life Democrats to chair important committees.
She points to Oberstar, who will head the Transportation Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson who should chair the Agriculture Committee, and Rep Ike Skelton who will likely head the Armed Services Committee. However, none of those panels have any authority over pro-life issues.
Committees with oversight on abortion, abstinence education, or bioethics issues like assisted suicide or embryonic stem cell research will likely be headed by pro-life opponents.
Still, political observers say the pro-life Democrats will force the Democratic leadership to not take such a hard line position in favor of abortion.
"The problem that [House Democratic Leader] Nancy Pelosi is going to have is not so much with the Republican White House, but with her own party," CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer asserted.
"Democratic divisions could complicate Pelosi’s plans," the Washington Post wrote in a post-election analysis and John Mercurio, senior editor of National Journal’s The Hotline called it "the most unique and specific challenge she’s going to have going into the Congress."
The new "Blue Dog" Democrats appear to be up to the task of challenging their party’s leadership, if post-election interviews are any indication.
After winning on Tuesday night, Shuler warned that conservative Democrats need to be wary of "extremes from the left."
"If we’re going to learn from our past, we certainly need to know that and recognize that the Democrat Party is a large tent. But we need to recognize that more people are in the middle of that tent," he told an interviewer. "Most of the people in the United States are in the middle. That’s the 80 percent of us, and we need a voice as well."
Of the 30 new Democrats elected in the House, nine have already joined the party’s Blue Dog Coalition, a group of conservative Democrats.
Related web sites:
Democrats for Life of America – https://www.democratsforlife.org