Buttons were available at the Democrats for Life of America forum on Sept. 4 during the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. “Do We Count?” the buttons asked. The forum was an effort by pro-life Democrats to examine the question: “Can you be pro-life in a pro-choice party?” The answer to both questions was mixed.
Many participants believed there was room to make a dent in the Democratic Party’s staunch support for abortion rights, in spite of Democrats for Life’s recent failure to get the party to alter its pro-choice plank in the 2012 platform. Kathy Dahlkemper, a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania, lost her seat to a pro-life Republican. Being pro-life in a pro-choice party, said Dahlkemper, can be a lonely place. “Some Democrats wish we would just go away,” she said.
She said the Democratic Party and its major fundraisers on the abortion issue do not fully support pro-life Democrats. Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America also make sure that pro-life Democrats face opposition in primary races, she said.
Members of Democrats for Life said the lack of support for pro-life Democrats by the national party has caused their numbers in Congress to dwindle, edged out by pro-life Republicans or pro-abortion rights Democrats. There were 125 pro-life Democrats in Congress in 1978; today there are only 17.
Both Dahlkemper and former Rep. Bart Stupak of Michigan, who retired in 2011, said the Democrats will not achieve a majority in Congress without enlisting pro-life Democrats—a point Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, which sponsored the forum, echoed in her lobbying work.
Day said there were signs of progress for pro-life Democrats this year. For the first time in years, pro-life Democrats were allowed to make a presentation to the platform committee on including “neutral” language about abortion in the 2012 platform. Their proposed language acknowledged that Democrats have “deeply held and sometimes differing positions on issues of personal conscience, like abortion and the death penalty” but said all are welcome in the party.
“We believe that we can reduce the number of abortions because we are united in our support for policies that assist families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies,” the proposal said. “We believe that women deserve to have a breadth of options available as they face pregnancy: including, among others, support and resources needed to handle the challenges of pregnancy, adoption and parenthood; access to education, health care, child care and appropriate child support.”
But not even this language was acceptable to the platform committee, Day said. The 2008 language stayed in the document “with one more sentence added to make it more pro-choice,” Day noted.
According to Eva Richey, head of the North Carolina chapter of Democrats for Life of America, there are 21 million Democrats who identify themselves as pro-life, but the party’s refusal to budge on its pro-abortion stance leaves pro-lifers like her out in the cold. Richey, for one, is tiring of the struggle. She said she will be voting for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney this November.
The Democratic Party is supposed to be a big tent with room for all, Richey said, but a better analogy would be that it is a bus. “And we’re in the back of it.”