Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) recently publicly shared that he is no longer pro-life. Why tell us something we already know? His pronouncement is a symptom of a larger problem within the Democratic Party – the abortion litmus test.
Democrats once held a 292-seat majority in the U.S House with 110 pro-life Democrats. Today, we are in the minority and there are only a handful of pro-life Democrats. The number of pro-choice democrats has remained about the same over the last 30 years – around 180 give or take. It is the number of pro-life Democrats that can win in pro-life districts and states that propel us to the magic number for the majority.
The truth is you cannot get funding from national Democratic spigots unless you pass the pro-choice litmus test. Tim Ryan, former champion of pro-life and common ground initiatives, former Advisory Board member of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), offers the latest evidence. That litmus test, more than anything else, continues to undermine the Democratic Party’s development of candidates who can contest red-leaning and purple states and districts. In so doing, it cedes control of Congress to the GOP.
Ryan’s case is instructive. I first met the then starry-eyed congressman following his first election in 2004. We sat down together, spending many hours in his office discussing how there was not enough being done to provide support for pregnant women and too much focus on restricting abortion. It was a meeting of like minds and shared values. We agreed that providing more support and giving women real choices when pregnant was the solution because an abortion is not a choice – it’s a desperate measure.
He also shared with me his staunch support for protection of the most vulnerable among us. Who is more vulnerable than a child in the womb, he asked? We proudly asked him to join our Advisory Board and were thrilled with his obviously heartfelt commitment to whole life principles.
It was with great regret that, a few years later, we quietly removed him from our Advisory Board. His record by then, quite frankly, was calling to question DFLA’s integrity. His idealism had withered. He had begun his Congressional career with a nearly perfect pro-life voting record but by 2009 that had deteriorated. When Ryan voted in favor of taxpayer funding of abortion, we removed him. Although he blamed DFLA for removing him over his support for contraception, that was not the case. It was simply his support for abortion and his shift in position against our mission.
So, what’s behind Ryan’s abandonment of what had once been passionately avowed principles? Well, isn’t it convenient that by becoming pro-choice Ryan now becomes eligible for campaign monies from national Democratic spigots – right at the moment when Ryan is thinking about running for the Senate against a Republican opponent with nearly $6 million in his war chest? Isn’t it convenient that with the newly-printed, pro-choice label emblazoned on his forehead, Ryan becomes acceptable company within national Democratic leadership circles?
Although Ryan may be correct in expecting an influx of funding, I fear that he may be seriously underestimating the number of pro-life voters in the state of Ohio. Abortion rights donors from outside the state may find his public pronouncement appealing and reassuring. However, in elections, it is votes, not money, that matters. Just ask Wendy Davis.
Instead of continuing our joint mission to provide real choice for pregnant women, Ryan is pulling the Party line that more abortion and more contraception is the answer. Never mind that women are now receiving free contraception under the ACA. Never mind that over half of the women seeking abortion were using contraception in the month they became pregnant. Never mind that a majority of women seeking abortion reference financial concerns or pressure from a spouse or family.
I am saddened to see this once hopeful congressman fall deeper into the deception of the abortion lobby. In a better world, he would have stood his ground on protecting the sanctity of life and helped us prove that you can be both pro-Democrat and pro-life.
Day is executive director of Democrats For Life.