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Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party

Anti-abortion Democrats take heat from party

Democrats are distancing themselves from the anti-abortion members of their party as a rash of governors sign laws putting new restrictions on the procedure.

While some party officials have avoided imposing a litmus test on candidates to support abortion rights, the raging debate has raised questions about whether there is room in the party for the few remaining anti-abortion Democrats like Rep. Dan Lipinski (Ill.) and Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards.

Edwards became the sixth governor this year — and the only Democrat — to sign into law a ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which is usually at about six weeks of pregnancy.

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And Lipinksi, co-chair of the House Pro-Life Caucus, has come under increasing pressure in recent weeks from progressives and abortion-rights groups who say the Democratic Party is no place for anti-abortion lawmakers.

“Women are the base of the Democratic Party, leading the charge for equality by fighting for reproductive freedom,” NARAL Pro-Choice America Political Director Nicole Brener-Schmitz said in a statement. “Governor Edwards, and any other elected official attempting to use political overreach to roll back our rights, is mistaken to think our fundamental freedoms are up for debate….He won’t get a pass just because he is a Democrat.”

The renewed debate over abortion rights, which has put people like Edwards and Lipinski in the spotlight ahead of the 2020 elections, comes at a time when state legislatures are passing abortion restrictions at record rates in hopes of forcing the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established a woman’s right to abortion.

Louisiana’s law won’t take effect unless a similar measure in Mississippi is upheld by a federal court. But Edwards’s role has angered Democrats who see abortion rights as an uncompromising and key part of the party’s platform.

Democratic party leaders, including the Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi Pelosi says she's giving Senate more time on Jan. 6 commission Ocasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package Pelosi picks Democrats for special panel tackling inequality MORE (Calif.) and Democratic National Committee CEO Seema Nanda, as well as several presidential candidates, have all condemned Edwards for signing the abortion legislation into law.

“Dangerous attacks on women’s constitutional right to an abortion are outrageous no matter what party you’re in,” tweeted presidential candidate Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisIt's past time we elect a Black woman governor Manchin rebuffs progressive push for infrastructure guarantee It's time for domestic workers to have rights MORE (D-Calif.).

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“I’ll say it again: In this political climate, I will only support Democrats for office who will defend a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion,” tweeted presidential candidate Julián Castro, responding to news Thursday that Edwards signed into law a “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban. 

But those rebukes have not led to action against Edwards by the Democratic Governors Association (DGA), which has attacked Republican governors for supporting similar bills. The group says it still plans to support Edwards in his 2020 reelection bid, arguing he has sided with the party on every other issue.

“He’s helped make a lot of progress for Louisianans, and that’s why we do and will continue to support his re-election effort,” DGA spokesman David Turner said in a statement to The Hill.

Similarly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it will maintain its policy of defending Democratic incumbents, meaning no withdrawal of support for Lipinski. 

However, Rep. Cheri BustosCheryl (Cheri) Lea BustosTo reverse the teaching shortage in low-income communities, give educators incentive to stay Democrats confront difficult prospects for midterms Democrat Cheri Bustos to retire from Congress MORE (D-Ill.), the chairwoman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, backed out of a fundraiser last month for Lipinski after an outcry from abortion-rights supporters.

“I’m proud to have a 100 percent pro-choice voting record and I’m deeply alarmed by the rapidly escalating attacks on women’s access to reproductive care in several states,” Bustos said in a statement last week.  

Lipinski is facing a tough primary challenge from businesswoman Marie Newman, who is supported by abortion rights groups NARAL Pro Choice America and Planned Parenthood. Three presidential candidates — Sens. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandOcasio-Cortez, Gillibrand and Moulton call for more high-speed rail funding in infrastructure package Cosmetic chemicals need a makeover Overnight Defense: Austin and Milley talk budget, Afghanistan, sexual assault and more at wide-ranging Senate hearing MORE (D-N.Y.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders opposes Biden Interior nominee in procedural vote Briahna Joy Gray on how Sanders changed the healthcare conversation Sanders 'delighted' DeSantis asked White House to import Canadian prescription drugs MORE (I-Vt.) and Washington Gov. Jay InsleeJay Robert InsleeBeyond California, a record year for recalls Seattle is first major US city to see 70 percent of residents fully vaccinated, mayor says Rivers, hydropower and climate resilience MORE (D) — have endorsed Newman over Lipinski, citing his position on abortion rights. 

"@MarieforCongress will protect a woman’s right to choose and equality for all Americans," Inslee tweeted last week. "That’s Marie Newman. Let’s get her elected."

Edwards and Lipinksi are very much in the minority when it comes to their positions on abortion. Edwards is the only anti-abortion Democratic governor, and Lipinski is one of only four House Democrats who identify as “pro-life.” In 1978, there were 125 House Democrats who shared Lipinski’s views.

Anti-abortion Democrats say it’s a mistake for the party to shun members who don’t agree with them on one issue.

“I think if the Democratic Party claims to be the big tent party, they will be much more successful if they truly include everybody,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America.

“They can’t talk about diversity and inclusion and then tell pro-life Democrats that they aren’t included. It just goes against the Democratic values and what we stand for.”

This story was Tuesday at 8:03 p.m.