As journalists and political pundits continue speculating about why Democrats lost so heavily in the election, one word keeps popping up – abortion.
The Democratic Party adopted its most extreme, out-of-touch position on abortion ever at its convention in July, calling for taxpayer funding of abortion, support of Planned Parenthood and abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy.
And Michael Wear, a former faith-outreach director for Barack Obama, believes that was a problem for many voters.
Wear, a pro-life evangelical Christian and a Democrat, recently shared his take on the November election with The Atlantic. Abortion came up frequently during the interview with reporter Emma Green.
“The Democratic Party used to welcome people who didn’t support abortion into the party,” Wear said. “We are now so far from that, it’s insane.”
The party does not just support abortion, it supports abortion to an extreme that most Americans, including many Democrats, are uneasy with. For example, the Democratic Party’s new platform calls for the end of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer funding of abortion in Medicaid.
For four decades the amendment had strong bi-partisan support – and for good reason. Polls consistently find that a strong majority of Americans, including Democrats, women and those who identify as pro-choice, do not want their tax dollars to pay for abortions.
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Wear brought up the Hyde Amendment as a problem for Democrats this past year:
Green: Why is it, do you think, that some liberals—and specifically the Democratic Party—have been unwilling to do outreach to people who hold particular kinds of theological points of view?
Wear: They think, in some ways wrongly, but in other ways rightly, that it would put constraints around their policy agenda. So, for instance: You could make a case to evangelicals while trying to appeal the Hyde Amendment, [which prohibits federal funding for abortion in most circumstances,] but that’s really difficult. Reaching out to evangelicals doesn’t mean you have to become pro-life. It just means you have to not be so in love with how pro-choice you are, and so opposed to how pro-life we are.
To Democrats for Life Executive Director Kristen Day, the new party platform on abortion was another signal from the party that pro-lifers “are no longer welcome.” In July, Day criticized the party for adopting such an extreme platform, and noted how many Democrats were telling her that they could not vote for Hillary Clinton because of her position on abortion.
Wear made similar observations. He said many pro-life Democrats have left the party because of its increasingly extreme stance on abortion.
Green: I’ve written before about the rare breed that is the pro-life Democrat. Some portion of voters would likely identify as both pro-life and Democrat, but from a party point of view, it’s basically impossible to be a pro-life Democrat. Why do you think it is that the party has moved in that direction, and what, if anything, do you think it should do differently?
Number two, we’re seeing party disaffiliation as a way of signaling moral discomfort. A lot of pro-life Democrats were formerly saying, “My presence here doesn’t mean I agree with everything—I’m going to be an internal force that acts as a constraint or a voice of opposition on abortion.” Those people have mostly left the party.
Third, I think Democrats felt like their outreach wouldn’t be rewarded. For example: The president went to Notre Dame in May of 2009 and gave a speech about reducing the number of women seeking abortions. It was literally met by protests from the pro-life community. Now, there are reasons for this—I don’t mean to say that Obama gave a great speech and the pro-life community should have [acknowledged that]. But I think there was an expectation by Obama and the White House team that there would be more eagerness to find common ground.
But common ground has been difficult for pro-lifers to find with Obama, who is considered to be the most pro-abortion president in U.S. history. Wear himself struggled with some of the Obama administration’s moves, including attempts to force religious groups to violate their consciences by covering birth control and drugs that may cause abortions in their employee health plans, according to the Atlantic. Wear described the administration as unnecessarily antagonistic toward religious conservatives. At one point, Wear said he almost quit.
He is not alone in his concern. Democrats for Life has been urging the party to step away from its abortion extremism and welcome pro-lifers back into its folds for years. More recently, some Democrats who support abortion also have begun to urge the party to rethink its abortion stance in light of the recent election results.
Recent post-election polling found that abortion played a major role in the election, especially among pro-life voters. According to the poll, 49 percent of Americans said abortion affected their vote, with 31 percent saying they voted for candidates who opposed abortion and 18 percent saying they voted for candidates who supported abortion.