Democrats for Life, not the life of the party
At the start of its national convention, leaders of the most prominent organization of pro-life Democrats at a Sept. 4 panel event called on their party to open up a “Big Tent,” where they are welcome.
“The Democratic Platform does not support my point of view,” said one of the Democrats for Life of America panelists, former Pennsylvania congresswoman Kathleen A. Dahlkemper. She was joined on the panel by Stephen F. Schneck, the director of Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies; former Michigan congressman Bartholomew T. “Bart” Stupak and Prof. Thomas Berg from the Minneapolis-based University of St. Thomas Law School.
“Yet, I was able to unseat a 14-year Republican incumbent because of my pro-life position,” said the married mother of five, who lost her northwestern Pennsylvania seat in 2010 to Republican Rep. George Joseph “Mike” Kelly Jr.
“We cannot regain the majority, make a serious effort to reduce abortion, address poverty, or provide a prosperous future unless we expand our mission and our tent to include those who oppose abortion,” said Dahlkemper.
Kristen Day, the DFLA executive director, said, “For the good of the Democratic Party, we will continue to advocate that the platform language should reflect the true diversity of views within the Democratic Party.”
Almost one-third of Democrats and one-quarter of Obama supporters identify themselves as pro-life, she said.
Day said as part of its efforts for 2012, DFLA President Janet Robert testified at the party’s platform hearings and collected more than 25,000 signatures for its “Big Tent” petition demanding more acceptance of abortion opponents.
Democrats need the votes of pro-life Democrats to push the rest of the party’s agenda, she said.
“We cannot get over 218 votes in the House without pro-life Democrats,” she said. In 1978, the Democrats had 292 seats, 125 of them were pro-life Democrats. As the number of Democrats in the House has declined, the number of pro-life Democrats has declined.
“Our message is simple: If you are pro-life and a Democrat, you can make a difference, thus the case for recognition. Inclusion can make a critical difference in this fall’s election,” Day said.
“The only way that the Democratic Party is going to win the seats back that we lost in 2010 is to run people that fit the districts,” said Stupak, who represented all of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and most of the Lower Peninsula until he chose not to run in the 2010 election.
Stupak said a candidate, who supported abortion rights, could not win in his district — and could not win in Dahlkemper’s district or the district once represented by former congressman Steven L. Driehaus that includes most of Cincinnati, Ohio.
“A Democratic Party that once again embraces its pro-life members and allows people to vote their conscience on abortion will allow its members to focus on the economy and other important issues that we all agree on,” he said.
“The focus on abortion only serves to divide our party and jeopardizes our ability to protect the vulnerable,” he said.
Day said without pro-life Democrats, several key recent pieces of legislation, including the Affordable Care Act, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, and the Dodd-Frank Act, would not have been signed into law.
“For Democrats for Life in Congress, the Affordable Care Act was their Waterloo,” said Mallory Quigley, the communications director for the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life advocacy group.
The ACA in 2010 was the largest expansion of abortion since the Roe v. Wade decision, she said.
“We encouraged them to stay strong and we told them that the vote for Affordable Care Act was not a pro-life vote,” Quigley said.
“We asked them to resist the pressure from their party,” she said.
Quigley said the SBA targeted 20 of the self-identified pro-life Democratic congressmen, who voted for the ACA, and defeated 15 of them. “It was part of our ‘Votes Have Consequences’ program.”
Day said she does not agree that the ACA fight was about abortion.
“Among the conservative pro-lifers, it was more about defeating the health care bill,” she said. “They were just trying to kill the bill.”
Schneck said, “We pro-life Democrats are often asked why we don’t just become Republicans.”
But, Schneck, who is also a member of the DFLA board of directors, said this reflects a shift in demographics.
“The Democratic Party used to have more pro-life members than the GOP,” he said.
“The Democratic Party should still be the home for pro-life citizens. This made sense before and still makes sense today. We believe that the future of the pro-life movement lies with the Democratic Party,” he said.
“Sadly, the Republican Party will never support the programs for social and economic justices that are the foundation for pro-life America,” he said.