Published on February 14, 2020
In recent weeks, several Democratic presidential contenders have been asked whether or not there is room in their party for pro-life Democrats. It’s a fair question.
Over the past several campaign seasons, the Democratic Party has shifted its official platform to reflect a growing commitment to erasing any restrictions on access to abortion (of which there are very few). In 2012, the party removed the word “rare” from its platform with regard to abortion, replacing it with a sentence indicating that it now favored “safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.” During the 2016 campaign, the party platform called for the repeal of the Hyde amendment, which has been added to spending bills on a bipartisan basis since 1976 to prohibit federal funds from directly underwriting or reimbursing abortion procedures.
These rhetorical shifts have been mirrored by changes in the policies that Democratic politicians support. In 2009, about one-quarter of Democrats in the House of Representatives voted to add Hyde-amendment language to the Affordable Care Act, an effort to protect the conscience rights of pro-life Americans. This year, not a single Democrat running for the presidential nomination supports conscience protections for anti-abortion taxpayers.
The Democratic platform and the party’s political leaders now hold a nearly uniform stance on abortion: It ought to be legal throughout all nine months of pregnancy, readily available to anyone for any reason, and funded by the U.S. taxpayer.
It’s little surprise, then, to discover that those same Democratic politicians increasingly see no reason even to acknowledge that pro-life Democrats exist or that they ought to be welcomed as a sizable bloc within the party.
A recent Gallup survey found that nearly one-third of self-identified Democrats also describe themselves as pro-life. Even Democrats who don’t describe themselves that way favor restricting abortion more than the party would prefer. Polling commissioned by the Knights of Columbus this January found that about six in ten Democrats support limiting abortion to the first three months of pregnancy. About half support bills to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation.
In the view of most left-wing politicians, however, Democratic voters with these views are plumb out of luck. Asked during a recent town hall whether there was “such a thing as a pro-life Democrat” in his “vision of the party,” presidential hopeful Senator Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) replied, “I think being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat.”
The topic came up because Pete Buttigieg, another front-runner for the Democratic nomination, had faced a similar question at a town hall of his own, directed to him by Kristen Day, executive director of the beleaguered interest group Democrats for Life.
“Do you want the support of . . . pro-life Democratic voters?” Day asked him. “There are about 21 million of us. And if so, would you support more-moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure that the party of diversity, of inclusion, really does include everybody?”
Buttigieg offered only equivocations in response, concluding with this remark: “Look, I’ve never encountered a politician or, frankly, another person that I agreed with 100 percent of the time, and even on very important things. . . . I may have my views, but I cannot imagine that a decision that a woman confronts is going to ever be better medically or morally because it’s being dictated by any government official.”
The only Democrat running for president who has offered an olive branch of any kind to pro-lifers within the party is Amy Klobuchar. On The View, host Meghan McCain asked the Minnesota senator whether she thinks “there’s room for pro-life Democrats to vote for you.”
“I believe we’re a big-tent party, and there are pro-life Democrats, and they are part of our party,” Klobuchar replied. “I think we need to build a big tent. We need to bring people in instead of shutting them out.”
In some quarters, Klobuchar received praise for this response, and she deserves a bit, if only because she was willing to say what her competitors would not: that pro-life Democrats exist and should not be formally excised.
But one wonders what pro-life Democrats gain from this sort of welcome. Klobuchar prefaced her reply to McCain with the following disclaimer: “I am strongly pro-choice. I have always been pro-choice.”
That much is certainly true. Though Klobuchar stands nearly alone among her Democratic opponents (with the sole exception of Hawaii representative Tulsi Gabbard) in being open to regulations on abortion in the last three months of pregnancy, her stance on abortion policy is far more liberal than that of any pro-life candidate, Democratic or otherwise.
Perhaps she isn’t willing to alienate potential supporters by suggesting that they should be ousted from the party. Her policies, though, leave little room for them to stay on board, if abortion is an issue that informs their vote. Along with most of her fellow Democratic senators, Klobuchar is cosponsoring a bill that would, among other provisions, block any state laws regulating abortion, even late in pregnancy. She opposes the Hyde amendment and says she would impose a litmus test on her judicial nominees to ensure that they support Roe v. Wade and subsequent abortion jurisprudence.
The fight over whether pro-life voters count as Democrats amounts to nothing more than useless quibbling over rhetoric. A hardcore progressive such as Sanders clearly hopes to further prove his dedication to unlimited abortion by insisting that it is non-negotiable. Though more obfuscating in his language, Buttigieg is saying the same thing: Believe what you’d like, but taxpayer-funded abortion is the name of the game.
Is a warm welcome from a party full of smiling politicians with the platform of Amy Klobuchar really all that different?
Alexandra DeSanctis is a staff writer for National Review and a visiting fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.