Will Pro-Life Democrats Be Spoken For?

Marjorie Dannenfelser | President, Susan B. Anthony List

Yesterday’s results in the Democratic primary in Arizona’s 27th senatorial district are good news for area residents – and a welcome reminder for the nation. Catherine Miranda, a 100 percent pro-life member of the Arizona house, won the primary by a double-digit margin over Aaron Marquez. Pro-life groups, including Susan B. Anthony List, supported Miranda and are elated at the outcome. With good reason.

The long-term relationship between advocates of the unborn and their friends in the Democratic Party has been rocky at best. Two decades ago, the Gallup poll showed that some 37 percent of the Democratic grassroots described themselves as pro-life. While Republicans began moving under Ronald Reagan to solidify their party’s pro-life stance, national Democrats have been taking an opposite tack – not merely embracing abortion on request as the official party position, but actively silencing courageous (and extraordinarily popular) leaders like Governor Bob Casey of Pennsylvania who sought opportunities to passionately defend the unborn.

The refusal of party leaders to allow Casey to speak to the life issue at the 1992 convention marked a critical turning point. Pro-life legislators could be seen but not heard on the topic at party events. Over the ensuing years the national platform continued its evolution to absolutism, finally declaring that the party would oppose “any and all efforts” to limit abortion in the United States.

Relations worsened in the wake of the enactment of Obamacare in 2010. After Rep. Bart Stupak and a platoon of fellow Democrats dropped their effort to include his comprehensive pro-life amendment in the bill, the Affordable Care Act was enacted to the profound disappointment of Stupak’s long-time pro-life allies. That disappointment resulted in efforts by groups like ours to replace these defecting Democrats with candidates who would never put the life of an unborn child behind party solidarity. Four years later only a handful of pro-life Democrats still serve in the U.S. Congress.

This is an unsustainable situation for defenders of the right to life. And it is also a distortion of reality. Any serious civil rights movement needs the support of members of each political party to make headway. No one is surprised by the morally conservative views that animate many Republicans’ stance on abortion. Pro-life Democrats, however, have long brought their own themes to the debate, leading more with concern for the “little guy,” the profound imbalance in power between actors in the abortion drama. As Casey put it in his powerful book Fighting for Life, “Progress is a hollow word unless everyone is counted in and no one written off, especially the most weak and vulnerable among us.”

All these decades after Roe v. Wade opinion polls still show a strong strain of pro-life conviction among Democrats. In the May 2014 Gallup poll that found an even split among Americans regarding their self-description as pro-life or pro-choice, 28 percent of Democrats chose the “pro-life” designation. Moreover, even among “pro-choice” Democrats, many regard the extent of their party’s commitment to abortion extreme and unnerving. A Quinnipiac poll from 2013 showed that 49 percent of all Democrats would support a limit on abortion at 20 weeks or not allowing abortion at all. Sixty-nine percent of all women hold this view.

Who speaks for these Democrats? Increasingly, candidates like Catherine Miranda can speak to them. She has voted against abortion for the purpose of sex selection and against tax-funded abortions in Arizona. She has said, “[R]espect for life and dignity of all human beings is a core value of my beliefs.” By winning her primary yesterday, Rep. Miranda has shown that there are other ways forward for pro-life Democrats besides turning Republican or going along meekly with their party’s national powers.

Stalwart pro-life Democrats in Congress like Dan Lipinski of Illinois would love to come off the vanishing species list. The dozens of pro-life Democrats now serving in state legislatures no doubt feel the same way. Pro-life groups stand ready and willing to help. And that is why Catherine Miranda’s victory in Arizona yesterday is welcome news at the end of this long political summer.

Marjorie Dannenfelser is President of the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization dedicated to the education, promotion, mobilization, and election of pro-life women at all levels of government.

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