Dwindling: pro-life Dems & pro-choice party's fate

NASHVILLE (BP) -- Pushback from pro-life Democrats and others continues some two weeks after Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said "every Democrat" should support abortion as one of the party's "fundamental values."

Pro-life U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski, D-Ill., told WORLD Radio May 2, "With the Democratic Party right now at probably our lowest point in about nine decades" in terms of the number of state and federal offices held, "it certainly is not the time to be pushing anyone outside the party or suggesting that they are not welcome."

Lipinski's remarks came in response to an April 21 statement by Perez that "every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman's right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state."

Perez urged Democrats to "make sure our Democratic candidates and elected leaders are living up to these fundamental values."

Perez made his statement after the pro-choice group NARAL slammed DNC leaders for supporting Heath Mello, a Democrat running for mayor of Omaha, Neb., who voted for pro-life bills as a state legislator. Former Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and DNC deputy chair Keith Ellison appeared at a rally in support of Mello April 20 as part of a "unity tour" organized by the DNC, whose party platform includes support of unfettered abortion access.

NARAL President Ilyse Hogue called DNC leaders' support of Mello "politically stupid," according to media reports.

Amid the controversy, Mello "quickly backtracked his pro-life position," LifeNews.com reported. The mayoral candidate said while he is "personally pro-life," he will "never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care."

Perez commended Mello's apparent change of mind on abortion policy April 22 and said "every candidate who runs as a Democrat" should support so-called abortion rights.

Russell Moore, president of Southern Baptists' Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, told Baptist Press "the protection of the unborn is too important to be a one-party issue."

"The marginalization of pro-life Democrats is bad news for the Democratic Party, but even more, is bad news for the country, for women and for the unborn," Moore said. "I pray for the day when both parties are committed to protecting the most vulnerable, including the unborn and their mothers, and are arguing with each other over economics rather than over the life and death of the innocent."

As syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly put it in a May 3 column, "The question is whether it's still possible to find room [in the Democratic Party] for the beliefs of Bible Belt Democrats, African-American church leaders, Latino Catholics and others who, at the very least, want to see centrist policies that limit the number of abortions."

Sanders and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi -- both of whom support pro-abortion policies -- insist there is room for pro-lifers in the Democratic Party.

"The truth is that in some conservative states, there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue," Sanders told NPR. "I understand it. That's what politics is about.

"If we are going to protect a woman's right to choose, at the end of the day we're going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation," Sanders said. "And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can't exclude people who disagree with us on one issue."

Pelosi told NBC News that "of course" a pro-life candidate can receive DNC support. She added, "I have served many years in Congress with members who have not shared my very positive -- my family would say aggressive -- position on promoting a woman's right to choose."

The number of Pelosi's pro-life colleagues, however, has decreased.

Democrats for Life of America, an organization of pro-life Democrats, said in an April 20 statement there were 125 pro-life Democrats in the U.S. House of Representative in 1978. That number has reduced to just two "staunchly pro-life Democrats" in 2017, according to WORLD Radio, which called pro-life Democrats an "endangered species."

The decrease of pro-life Democrats has coincided with the party's loss of more than 1,000 state legislature seats as well as its loss of the White House and both houses of Congress, according to Democrats for Life.

The group's executive director Kristen Day told The Atlantic, "The Democratic Party has to look in the mirror and say, where did we do wrong? What do we need to do to start winning again? This is one of those issues where the party could expand its coalition. I do have some optimism. The fact that we're having this discussion at all is important, and potentially an opportunity to create space for pro-life Democrats within the party, but so far it doesn't seem like that's the direction the party will take."

According to a 2016 survey by the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, 51 percent of Americans self-identify as pro-choice, but a full 78 percent "support substantial restrictions on abortion and would limit it to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy," LifeNews.com reported. Sixty-two percent of Americans and 44 percent of Democrats oppose using taxpayer funding for abortions.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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