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The real litmus test is whether pro-life democrats vote for pro-life legislation


In a surprising twist, the Democrats have announced they are going to let pro-lifers back into the Democratic party. 

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” said Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, adding “you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district.”

Several high-profile Democrats have come out against such a litmus test, most recently California Governor Jerry Brown, who said on Meet the Press on Sunday, “It wasn’t very long ago that a number of Catholic Democrats were opposed to abortion. So the fact that somebody believes today what most people believed 50 years ago, should not be the basis for their exclusion.” Even Nancy Pelosi has made welcoming noises to pro-lifers, telling the Washington Post on May 2, “Most of those people – my family, extended family – are not pro-choice. You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?”

Democratic political elites now publicly admit abortion extremism is costing Democrats the votes they need to compete nationally. We at SBA List welcome this admission.

But will the Democrats really let pro-lifers’ nose under the tent?

Since the humiliating exclusion of Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey at the 1992 Democratic convention, Democrats have been on a steadily intensifying campaign to purge pro-lifers from their party. Just a few months ago, DNC chair Tom Perez was forced by pro-abortion rights donors and activists to recant party support for Bernie Sanders-endorsed Nebraska mayoral candidate Heath Mello. He declared support for abortion non-negotiable in the Democratic party: “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. This is not negotiable.”

If the Democrats really want to permit a pro-life wing of the party, they are going to have to let these pro-life Democrats vote as they promised the people. Lujan’s promises are worthless until the Democratic leadership allows self-declared pro-life Democrats to support real pro-life legislation. 

The signs so far for pro-life Democrats are not promising.

Consider the sad case of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), up for re-election in 2018. She won her first election narrowly only after promising North Dakotan voters: “I do not support public funding of abortions, and believe that late term abortions should be illegal except when necessary to save the life of the mother.” But then she voted against both of the pro-life measures she promised North Dakotans to support.

I think this was morally wrong. It was also politically unwise. North Dakotans are strongly pro-life and sure seem to believe that votes have consequences. A January poll by SBA List found that 77 percent of North Dakotans voters said they were less likely to vote for Sen. Heitkamp if they learned she voted to give taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood instead of comprehensive healthcare providers.

One of the jobs of SBA List and other pro-life groups is to make sure voters learn when politicians lie. 

But we are not just concerned about Democrats who fail to protect innocent life. When the roles were reversed 10 years ago, and some Republican Party elites were advocating for a “big tent” on abortion, we worked very hard to keep the GOP pro-life from the top down. SBA List screened each candidate for RNC Chair in 2011 to ensure all of the candidates were strongly pro-life.

We have also worked closely over the years with RNC committee men and women to strengthen the Republican platform through a series of resolutions. Most importantly, we have repeatedly demonstrated in close-fought elections that being on the side of life helps a candidate win elections.

Sens Susan Collins (R-Maine) and. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are two Republicans who recently shamed themselves by voting against the healthcare legislation that would have defunded Planned Parenthood of taxpayer dollars and redirected those monies to comprehensive healthcare alternatives like community health centers. We at SBA List make politicians in both parties a promise: we won’t forget.

The principled position for life ought to be the position of both the Republican and Democratic parties. One-third of rank-and-file Democrats consider themselves pro-life, and that’s a hard number. An even greater number of Democrats support banning late-term abortion after five months and oppose taxpayer funding of abortion.

Key Democratic constituencies support limits on abortion. Polling consistently shows a majority of Hispanic people think abortion should be illegal in all or most circumstances. Sixty seven percent of women voters support legislation to end late-term abortions after 20 weeks, when science shows the unborn child can feel pain.

Outside of the Washington bubble, many Democrats recognize this fact. One-third of Democrat state legislators in 20 states have supported pain-capable late-term abortion bans. It may take a while, but I hope that there will be a pro-life future for the Democratic party. 

In the meantime we will make sure voters hear about the Republicans or Democrats who fail in their simplest duty: to protect the most vulnerable and innocent of lives.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is president of Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life group with more than 465,000 members nationwide. 

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

Tags Abortion Abortion in the United States Bernie Sanders Bob Casey Democratic Party Democrats for Life of America Heidi Heitkamp Lisa Murkowski Politics Politics of the United States Sexual reproduction Susan B. Anthony List Susan Collins United States pro-choice movement United States pro-life movement

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