Bernie Sanders’s exit from the race for the Democrat Nomination, leaving Joe Biden as the presumptive winner, presents a perfect opportunity to assess the status of Pro-Lifers within the Democrat Party. With the entire world distracted by non-stop coverage of COVID-19, coverage of abortion rights has been entirely side-lined. In the past three months, Pro-Lifers have seen major gains in the Democrat Party that only a year ago would have been unthinkable.
Iowa Caucus and Early Primaries
Pro-Lifers in the Democrat Party saw a surge of visibility during the Iowa Caucuses that continued during the early primaries. Kristin Day, Executive Director of Democrats for Life of America challenged Pete Buttigieg on international television that was covered in multiple media outlets. Despite Buttigieg winning the caucus (only to be forced out of the race a few primaries later) it wasn’t nearly the end of the issue in Iowa.
On February 5, 2020, Angelus News reported for the Catholic News Agency “How did pro-life Democrats caucus in Iowa?”
Kathy Richardson, a pediatric nurse practitioner in Carroll, Iowa, and a precinct captain for Joe Biden said the issue was still being brought up to her in last-minute canvassing for Biden on Monday.
Lizzy Dowd, a Catholic student at Drake University in Des Moines, was present that evening. She planned to advocate for pro-life language in the party’s platform at her neighborhood precinct on Monday night.
Another Democrat did not caucus on Monday night. Jim Plew, who attended Mass on Tuesday morning at St. Mary of Nazareth parish in suburban Des Moines, told CNA he identified as a Democrat but did not caucus on Monday because of the candidates’ uniform support of abortion. Plew told CNA he was still undecided in the election.
This was followed in New Hampshire where Senator Amy Klobuchar and Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard both emphasized that Pro-Life Democrats were welcome in their coalitions. Gabbard reiterated her position on a third-trimester ban and Klobuchar became vocal about her work with the adoption caucus to make abortion “rare.” In a surprising upset, Klobuchar moved into third place and Gabbard despite polling at 3.3% beat out Andrew Yang and nearly tied with Tom Steyer, despite both men out fundraising her and a corporate media blackout on her candidacy.
March proved to be a mixture of defeats and victories for Pro-Life Democrats in Congress. Congressman Harry Cueller won his primary against Democratic Socialist Jessica Cisneros in Texas.
On the other hand, Congressman Dan Lipinski, the most visible Pro-Life Democrat lost his primary election Marie Newman who had unsuccessfully tried to unseat him two years ago. Lipinski credited his unflinching stance on abortion as the reason that he was targeted for retirement:
“There was one issue that loomed especially large in this campaign, the fact that I am pro-life. I was pilloried in millions of dollars of TV ads and mailers. I was shunned by many of my colleagues and other Democratic Party members and operators because of my pro-life stance. The pressure in the Democratic Party on the life issue has never been as great as it is now. Over the years I’ve watched many other politicians succumb to pressure and change their position on this issue. I have always said that I would never give up being pro-life and standing up for babies in the womb.”
On a more positive note when the $2 trillion stimulus passed the Democrat Controlled House it included a Hyde Amendment provision and allowed the U.S. Small Business Administration discretion to exclude Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from funds and loans. No matter what happens from here out the Democrat Party must accept that they didn’t just leave abortion out of the stimulus they were forced to prohibit any funds to it, a dramatic U-turn from the 2016 Platform and every single candidate’s position in 2020.
Before oral arguments were suspended, Louisiana Democrat State Senator Katrina Jackson appeared at the Supreme Court defending the Louisiana law she wrote, requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers June Medical Services v. Russo.
While the law doesn’t ban abortions, it could shut-down most abortion clinics as hospitals often will only grant admitting privileges for physicians performing therapeutic abortions. It could also over-turn the “undue burden standard” that strikes down abortion laws as unconstitutional that impede abortion access regardless of any other considerations.
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the case but the fact that it took up the case at all has been encouraging. The Louisiana law was already upheld by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and the change in court dynamics may result in it being upheld. The court also takes a side step and simply rule that the plaintiff had no standing to bring the claim in the first place. The result would create a new precedent that abortionists with a conflict of interest can not bring suits against abortion legislation pulling the teeth out of the abortion rights movement.
More importantly, it broke the image of a Democrat Party unified in support of abortion. Not only are there Democrat voters that are Pro-Life, but there are also Democrat elected officials on the National Stage. The issue is not settled within the Democrat Party in favor of abortion, no matter how much the mainstream news media and the Democrat National Committee like to pretend otherwise.
Perhaps the most shocking turn-around has been the presumptive nomination of Joe Biden as the Democrat Nominee. Pro-Lifers in the party were outraged when last year in twenty-four hours he changed his position on the Hyde Amendment and supported Federal Tax-Dollars for abortion. And they will most likely not forget it either. However, most Pro-Lifers missed a statement that Biden made that has sent an alarm through the entire Pro-Choice Movement.
On March 17, 2020, abortion rights media outlet Rewire News sounded the alarm in a commentary piece “Joe Biden Says He Would Make ‘Roe’ Federal Law. Sort Of.”
“Former Vice President Joe Biden on Sunday said that as president, he’d protect abortion rights by codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law.
But Biden being Biden, he didn’t stop with merely endorsing the popular Democratic policy idea. During Sunday’s Democratic presidential debate with U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Biden pledged he would push to codify Roe “as modified by Casey,” referring to the 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey.
That’s the other big U.S. Supreme Court abortion rights case. The one that weakened Roe’s precedent by introducing the undue burden standard. Yes, that Casey.”
While still a terrible position, Planned Parenthood vs. Casey modified Roe vs. Wade, in important ways. It allowed prohibiting abortions after fetal viability is determined to result in many states passing twenty-week bans and further allowed for abortion restrictions before viability provided they didn’t pose an “undue burden” on the mother seeking an abortion. Again despite this still being a terrible position, it is a dramatic and overlooked departure from the rest of the Democrat field.
If Biden was not simply bumbling again, that position could mark a turning point in the Democrat Party away from supporting abortion rights. Then there is the yet to be selected running mate. While an official announcement has yet to be made, Senator Amy Klobuchar appears at the top of the list.
While Klobuchar would be a terrible running mate for Pro-Lifers due to her stance on the issue, a Biden/Klobuchar ticket could see a dramatic re-writing of the Democrat Platform. One that could re-establish the conscience clause acknowledging the Democrat Party has a diversity of views on the issue with an emphasis on it being rare and supporting Roe vs. Wade as modified by Planned Parenthood vs Casey. Both would be a dramatic move away from the abortion radicalism of the 2020 Field and the 2016 Democrat Platform.
What all of this indicates is that the increased vocalizing or Pro-Lifers in the Democrat Party are having an effect. Had more Pro-Lifers shown unto the Iowa Caucus the caucus and participated in their State Parties they might see further mobility.
During California’s Primary, I contacted multiple Democrat candidates that were challenging Adam Schiff in Los Angeles. I discovered that one candidate agreed with a twenty-week ban and another candidate considered himself a moderate pro-choicer, who wanted a ban after eight weeks. I was also able to vote for a Presidential candidate who supported some prohibition of abortion – Tulsi Gabbard. During a conversation with a coworker about why I would vote for her over other candidates, I told her I was against abortion. To my surprise this coworker who was also registered this year as a Democrat said so was she.
I don’t suggest that Pro-Lifers should ever settle, but it is a powerful reminder of the power the Pro-Life Movement has and the ability to influence change. For too long Americans have been told it was simply one way. Democrats supported abortion, Republicans protected life and Roe vs. Wade was the settled law of the land.
The Republican Party has taken some steps to end abortion, but so has the Louisiana Democrat Party with their heartbeat ban. The difference, however, is that Louisiana Democrats took action at the risk of censure, while Republicans did not until they lost the House of Representatives. While the Republican Party platform may be solid, its promises from 2016 remain unfulfilled despite having a Republican Congress for the first two years of the Trump Administration and bi-partisan support from Pro-Life Democrats in Congress. The Democrat Party, on the other hand, appears to be experiencing a major shift on the issue, one that will continue in a pro-life direction. But only if Pro-Lifers register as Democrats and continue to speak up and make their voices heard!