Democrats need to stand up for reproductive freedom if they want power
© Francis Rivera

When it was reported recently that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wouldn’t withhold funds from candidates who refused to steadfastly protect women’s right to control their own bodies, it capped months of what seemed like bobbing and weaving by Democratic Party leaders about where the party stands on the issue of abortion rights.  

At this moment, more than ever, a clear commitment to find candidates committed to protect abortion access as core to gender equity is required by the party to win up and down the ballot in 2018 and beyond.

Last year, our organizations, Democracy for America and NARAL Pro-Choice America, were on opposite sides of the hard-fought and bruising primary between Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders.


One of the positive end results of the primary season was Sanders and Clinton delegates coming together to produce the most progressive Democratic Party platform in history. The platform committee unanimously adopted a right to the full range of reproductive healthcare. And, for the first time, it included coverage and access for abortion care regardless of geography and financial status, seeking to combat the long-standing discrimination against low-income women and women of color in our nation’s laws.

While we disagreed on presidential primary candidates last year, we could not agree more that this is a critical moment for women in this nation and for the Democratic Party. Women, especially women of color, are the backbone of this party. Women disproportionately make calls, knock doors, and have flooded town halls. Women staged the largest demonstration in this country's history.  

Women deserve to have party leadership committed to finding a strategy to electoral victory that advances our interests, not sacrifices them. The leadership can do better than to lean on an old, misguided, and incorrect argument that our party has to enable those who equivocate on reproductive justice in order to regain power.

The fact is: We know the Democratic Party stands the best chance of winning elections and winning progress for the American people when it supports candidates who run on the core progressive values that most Americans share. Democrats win when they loudly and proudly declare that women’s rights are human rights, and the rights of women to control their bodies and raise healthy, safe families are not up for compromise or debate.

And it’s not just us.

Seven in 10 Americans support legal access to abortion. This is true across geography, age, and ethnicity, in red and blue states, regardless of an individual’s personal feelings about abortion. In fact, the majority of self-identified Republicans support legal access to abortion. Even a significant number of the Republicans and Democrats who identify themselves as “pro-life” believe that abortion should be legal. They firmly believe that politicians are not equipped to make the most personal decisions for a woman and her family.

Providing more data, an April Priorities USA poll of 2016 drop off voters showed that women’s rights and abortion were in the top two issues of concern moving into 2018. It showed coveted “swing voters” are not won over by restricting personal liberties; they want jobs and economic security. 

Meanwhile, the small minority of voters who want to make abortions illegal and unsafe disagree with the Democratic Party on so many other core values and policies that weakening our position on this critical issue wouldn’t even be enough to ever get their votes.

Instead, strategies to victory start with the base — the people who knock doors and make phone calls and work day in and day out to get Democrats elected all over the country. A motivated base turns out in mid-term elections. A disenfranchised base that feels betrayed on core values stays home.

When elected officials vote to restrict abortion access or contraception access, they undercut the welfare of all women. When we recruit and run Democratic candidates who say there is and should be a place in the party for leaders willing to restrict access to reproductive health care, they undercut the Democratic Party’s ability to win.

To win back power the Democratic Party must be the party that stands up for women and reproductive freedom. To win, the Democratic Party message must communicate that you can’t have a real conversation about economic security that does not at its core include reproductive freedom and allowing women the ability to decide when and how they start a family. To win, the party can’t advocate for economic populism without reproductive justice.

Women’s autonomy over their bodies is not up for debate, it’s central in our fight for the future of America. And with so much on the line, we can’t afford to lose this fight.

Ilyse Hogue is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. Charles Chamberlain is the executive director of Democracy for America.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.