Abortion activists’ criticism of Democrats for supporting a candidate with a pro-life record last week has stirred up a national debate within the party.
Struggling after heavy election losses in November, many in the party are debating whether to welcome pro-life Democratic candidates, especially in rural areas where voters tend to be pro-life.
The debate erupted after abortion activists with NARAL criticized DNC Chair Tom Perez, Sen. Bernie Sanders and others for supporting Heath Mello, a Nebraska mayoral candidate who has a pro-life voting record.
“The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women — one of the most critical constituencies for the party — of our basic rights [abortion] and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement last week.
Perez responded to the criticism by describing abortion as a “fundamental value” to the party and said every Democrat should support it. This made abortion activists happy.
But other Democrats criticized Perez for making such an exclusive statement and basically closing the tent on candidates with pro-life positions. Some have described Perez’s statements as a “litmus test” for future Democratic candidates.
Perez appeared to flip-flop again this week, The Hill reports:
But a DNC aide told The Hill Thursday that Perez doesn’t think there should be a litmus test on this issue for Democrats who want to run for office and won’t abandon support for anti-abortion candidates.
“Tom doesn’t believe in litmus tests and never said he doesn’t support pro-life candidates,” the DNC aide said.
Former Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) told The Hill that Democrats shouldn’t dismiss anti-abortion lawmakers or candidates, especially if they want to make inroads with voters in more rural and conservative areas.
Stupak, who served in Congress for nearly two decades, co-authored the Stupak-Pitts amendment which would have prohibited insurance providers participating in the ObamaCare exchanges from getting federal funds to cover abortions.
“The party has always discouraged right-to-life Democrats, including myself,” said Stupak, who faced a tough primary from a pro-abortion rights candidate when he first ran for office in 1992.
“We’re this unique little bloc of voters. When it comes right down to it, both sides need us but both sides want to disown us. It’s really a little frustrating.”
Later, Stupak added: “Democrats have to stop pretending like this isn’t a big deal to people. It is. So we’re saying open the big tent.”
Perez is alienating a huge number of voters by asserting that all Democrats should support abortion on demand. Democrats for Life estimates more than 23 million Democrats in the U.S. are pro-life.
Last year, Pew Research found that 28 percent of Democrats say abortion should be illegal in most or all cases. Marist/KofC polling also found that 23 percent of Democrats consider themselves pro-life.
Abortion activists do not see it that way. According to the Guardian:
To groups like NARAL, the party’s decision to throw its weight behind a politician with a spotty reproductive rights record not only broke with party promises – it sent a hostile message to the women who have been showing up in force to oppose Trump and his policies.
“Women are the most energized part of the Democratic party’s base right now,” said Kaylie Hanson Long, NARAL’s national communications director. “They’re flooding town halls. They have made the vast majority of phone calls into congressional offices.” (Early polls have found liberal women to be somewhat more likely to get involved in activism since Trump’s election.)
“Reproductive rights were the tip of the spear of the Women’s March, which touched communities all across the country,” Long continued.
Just a few months ago, the Women’s March was at the center of a very similar debate when it kicked out several pro-life groups as sponsors, after initially welcoming them. Many of the pro-lifers showed up anyway. To imply that the Women’s March was proof that most women support abortion, and therefore the Democratic Party should, too, is simply disingenuous on NARAL’s part.
One could argue that the party’s growing allegiance to the abortion industry and its radical pro-abortion agenda are what is alienating many Democratic voters.
The party platform supports legalizing late-term abortions for any reason, something most Americans oppose. And last year, the DNC adopted a platform calling for taxpayers to fund abortions.
Taxpayer funding for abortion is a very unpopular issue, even among Democrats and those who describe themselves as pro-choice. A Politico/Harvard University poll in October 2016 found that just 36 percent of likely voters supported taxpayer funding for abortions, while 58 percent opposed it. These findings are consistent with previous polls from various groups.
The Democratic Party has not always been so extreme on abortion. The party, which prides itself in fighting for the vulnerable, once welcomed strong pro-life politicians who fought for the rights of unborn babies.