Opinion

'Whole-Life' Pro-Life Democrats Aren't Quite as Advertised

But their party continues to tell them thanks but no thanks

Left to right, Rosemary Geraghty, Aimee Murphy, Christina Healy and Maria Oswalt of Life Matters Journal. (Melinda Henneberger/CQ Roll Call)

PHILADELPHIA — The pro-life Democrats trying in vain to point out the self-defeating down-ballot and state-level results of their party’s increasing hostility toward them were not quite as NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue described from the podium on Wednesday night.  

“And the people who so loudly oppose abortion rights? Let me let you into their dirty little secret,’’ Hogue told the crowd. “It’s not abortion that bothers them; it’s empowering women to live their own lives.”  

At the Democrats for Life's quadrennial DNC event here, Caroline Fayard , a New Orleans lawyer running for the U.S. Senate in Louisiana, said that for her, being pro-life “is not just at the extreme edges of the argument, but is about equal wages and services and significant resources and support for our working families.”  

[ Anti-Abortion Democrats Wonder About Their Place in the Party ]  

“We like to call ourselves ‘whole-life’ Democrats,” said Janet Robert, president of the Democrats for Life of America — as in anti-death penalty, too, and pro-services of all kinds for children, the elderly and everyone in between.  

“Being anti-abortion does not make you pro-life,” unless you also work to boost assistance in nutrition, housing and all policies that would give a woman confidence that “there’s going to be help” after she gives birth, said self-described pro-life Democrat John Bel Edwards, the governor of Louisiana, who ran on policies including equal pay and expanding Medicaid.  

Waiting to get their photos taken with Edwards at the small Wednesday reception were four young women from the Pittsburgh-based Life Matters Journal , which 21-year-old writer Maria Oswalt described as a human rights news outlet opposed to “any and all violence against human beings.’’  

[ Louisiana Governor's Election Continues Tradition of Unusual Party Splits ]  

All four women plan to write in a candidate this year rather than vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump because “it would violate our conscience” to support either nominee, Oswalt said.

Maintaining a foothold

The party decided years ago that it's really not losing anything with an effective pro-choice litmus test since anyone who wouldn't vote Democratic over abortion rights is already a Republican.  

[ How to Talk Like a Pro-Lifer ]  

As a result, it’s definitely getting harder for Democrats like Edwards to maintain even a foothold in the party, the governor said, with “the platform moving in the other direction,” in favor of overturning the Hyde Amendment that bars taxpayer-funded abortions.  

In fact, the party has moved so far away from the “big tent” strategy of 2006 and 2008 that Clinton’s vice presidential nominee, Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, who has said he's personally pro-life but doesn’t vote that way — and, in fact, has a 100 percent approval rating from Planned Parenthood — is nonetheless suspect among some of his fellow progressives for merely harboring such views in his heart.  

[ Kaine Cites the Pope in Urging Anti-Zika Dollars for Planned Parenthood ]  

On the day the choice was announced, MSNBC host Chris Hayes said picking such a throwback on abortion rights would be “disqualifying” for a male nominee, though Hillary Clinton could get away with it as a woman.  

And Stephanie Schriock, president of the Goliath, make-or-break campaign funder EMILY’s List, which supports only pro-choice Democratic women, is reportedly in the running to be the next chair of the Democratic National Committee.  

[ EMILY's List Strategy Questioned After Big Losses ]  

In a pleading open letter to fellow party members, Democrats for Life — the group's executive director Kristen Day holds together with volunteers and a hope in the unlikely —  marches through the stats: the 912 state legislative seats, 30 state chambers, 13 Senate seats and 11 governorships Democrats have lost since 2008, when the party began moving away from a more inclusive stance.  

Many of these losses were in the Midwest and the South, where voters are particularly likely to favor some restrictions on abortion, and to oppose the late-term procedures available in the United States and only six other countries in the world.  

“Are we willing to win the battle of the presidency, yet continue to lose the war on poverty, pay inequity, discrimination and other social challenges?" the letter asks.  

[ NARAL Aims to Bring Back Female Voting Bloc ]  

Pro-life Ds have long said that NARAL has become to their party what the National Rifle Association is to the GOP — patrons that brook no restrictions at all.

A 'big tent' strategy

"We invite you to thoughtfully consider the return to a 'big tent' strategy in which Democrats who have mixed feelings about abortion feel comfortable and supported by the party,’’ read the letter, which ended by urging the Democratic Party to let them help “improve the lives of those in the margins.”  

[ Pelosi: I’m Not for Abortion on Demand ]  

For now, the answer is, more clearly than ever, thanks but no thanks:  

“Pro-life Democrats are the biggest threat to the Republican Party, but our party doesn’t seem to see that’’ said former one-term Pennsylvania Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper , who was wearing a Hillary button.  

Dahlkemper was credited with the Affordable Care Act provision that lets parents keep their grown children on their insurance until they are 26. She’s county executive in Erie County now, and the Congressional seat she once filled is held by a Republican .  

“The Republicans see it, which is why it was the pro-life Republicans who came after me” and funded her opponent, she said. “I just shake my head.”  

[ A Democrat's Choice to End Subtlety on Divisive Issue ]  

Though a third of all Democrats — 32 percent  — self-identify as pro-life in polls, the dozen Democrats I asked in Philadelphia about their inclusion were generally dismissive.  

Several said that though everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, majority rules.  

And the most representative response was this one, from Bernie Sanders-supporting Dave Feller of Chicago: “There are so many bigger issues we should be concerned about.”  

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