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Pro-life Democrats must stand up against party's abortion litmus test
The Pain-Capable Unborn Protection Act was introduced on the Senate floor Thursday.
The bill, which would prohibit abortion after 20-weeks, passed the House of Representatives Tuesday although only three House Democrats voted for it. However, many more Democrats in Congress oppose abortion but fear the backlash from their own party for voting their conscience.
The current Party philosophy is you can be a pro-life Democrat, but you cannot vote that way. This type of abortion litmus test is no better than telling pro-lifers they do not belong at all.
In the wake of the disastrous 2016 elections, Democratic Party leaders were forced to consider whether or not the most extreme abortion platform plank in the history of the party played a critical role in the shellacking our party took. Seeing what should be obvious to everyone, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), California Gov. Jerry Brown, and others have come out against a litmus test on abortion - all of them indicating that they are open to supporting pro-life Democrats to try to revive the party's flagging fortunes.
But the pragmatism and common sense of these pro-choice figures have been challenged by NARAL and Planned Parenthood, along with those who have basically regurgitated their talking points. This includes Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez, who called supporting abortion rights "not negotiable" and has stumbled repeatedly to articulate a clear position on the litmus test and seems to have settled on the idea that pro-life Democrats are welcome as long as they vote as though they were pro-choice.
The idea seems to be that a Democratic candidate should be free to personally reject abortion in his or her private life but not to enact laws that restrict abortion. While some pro-choice politicians claim to be comfortable with this type of tradeoff, it is not something that a genuine pro-life progressive can accept.
Pro-life Democrats oppose abortion because we believe that it constitutes the direct taking of innocent human life. We see it as a violation of human rights, as something that is incompatible with social justice, and as an unjust alternative to delivering social justice to poor and working-class women, men, and families.
These are social concerns. Abortion is not simply a matter of individual morality. It is not comparable to Catholics abstaining from meat during Lent or Muslims fasting during Ramadan. For many opponents of abortion, particularly for those pro-life millennials who are not members of any organized religion, abortion is not a religious issue at all.
And for those who are religious, it is a social issue in the same way that various social causes were for religious abolitionists, suffragists, reformers, and Civil Rights Movement leaders and activists.
For someone who is pro-life, it makes no sense to value one's own child but not one's neighbor's child or the child of a poor single mother across town. It makes no sense to abhor violence against some unborn children but to look the other way when the lives of other children are extinguished.
Is someone a good neighbor if she keeps her own kids safe from cars but says nothing as a neighbor's child recklessly darts in and out of a busy street? Is someone really a progressive if he keeps his own kids safe from abusing drugs but is wholly indifferent to an opioid crisis that destroys more and more lives? Is someone a good person if she or he would never own a slave, but refuses to impose that moral conviction on others who exploit people through the trafficking of human beings?
The purpose of law is to enforce our understanding of what is good for society - what helps people to flourish, what keeps them safe, what keeps them from being able to freely harm others. This is why we support everything from progressive taxation to a social safety net to laws against drunk driving.
And as Democrats, we support robust government action because we believe that government can make a difference in people's lives, especially in the lives of the poor and vulnerable. As Democrats, we believe that government can and should act to protect the vulnerable from exploitation, persecution, and indifference. The government can and must protect the voiceless and weak from the strong and powerful.
If one assumes that an unborn child is just a blob of cells, some type of subhuman creature, or a human being that lacks personhood, it may not make sense to place any restrictions on abortion. But if someone is pro-life, he or she believes that a child in the womb is a human being, a person. And as pro-life progressives, we believe that every human being has fundamental human rights and deserves a life of dignity. Human worth is not earned; it is innate. And the worth of a child who is born into poverty is equal to the worth of children whose parents are CEOs and presidents.
Pro-life Democrats may disagree about the best way to minimize the numbers of abortions and maximize the protection of unborn children, but we are all united in the belief that these children matter. Our concern cannot be limited to our own children. That is precisely the type of mentality the Democratic Party is fighting.
So there is no special compromise in which pro-life Democrats can be privately pro-life but pro-choice when they step into the public arena. Democratic leaders have to choose: Either keep the abortion litmus test and take their chances or set it aside and try to rebuild the party around a shared commitment to social justice and human rights for all.
Pro-life Democrats are ready to help the party compete nationwide once again. It is time for the party to find strong candidates who live their values, compete again, win again, and deliver social and economic justice for all.
Democrats who do take the "personally pro-life view" should take the Senate's vote on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act very seriously. If our lawmakers and their constituents truly believe human life begins in the womb, they should vote that way.
Kristen Day is the executive director of Democrats For Life of America.