Group Brings Pro-Life Voice to Democratic Party

National Catholic Reporter, November 25, 2011 | Go to article overview

Group Brings Pro-Life Voice to Democratic Party


At a time when larger pro-life organizations such as the American Life League and Priests for Life are beset by concerns about their finances, a smaller pro-life group has a different, and in many ways larger, challenge. Democrats for Life of America is trying to turn the Democratic Party into friendlier turf for pro-life concerns.

"I see Democrats being more open," said executive director Kristen Day. "The pro-choice litmus tests are decreasing." She noted that during the debate over health care reform, 65 Democrats voted for the Stupak Amendment. But Day also recognizes that the health care debate represented a missed opportunity. "That was a pivotal moment that could have been so important for the pro-life movement. If the pro-life movement had embraced the Affordable Care Act, we might have seen a sea change."

There was a sea change after the Affordable Care Act passed, but it was not the one that Day desired. Many pro-life Democrats who voted for the Stupak Amendment went down to defeat in the 2010 midterm elections. Congressmen Steve Driehaus, John Boccieri and Kathy Dahlkemper, among others, found themselves targeted by the Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life political action committee that opposed the Affordable Care Act.

Democrats for Life's efforts work in two directions. On the one hand, it tries to convince the bigwigs in the Democratic Party to be more open to pro-life concerns. A 2009 Pew Survey Indicated that 31 percent of all Democrats believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, and 57 percent think that reducing the number of abortions is a good public policy goal. "My hope is that DFLA will unite and ultimately fully enfranchise around one-third of the Democratic Party [prolife Democrats] and bring millions of prolife moderates and progressives back into the party," said Democrats for Life fellow Robert Christian. "I hope DFLA can help to rebuild the Democratic Party around its commitment to economic and social justice, returning it to majority party status, by eliminating the disproportionate influence of prochoice absolutists."

On the other hand, Day and her organization encourage the pro-life movement to broaden its focus. "There is a problem that when you talk about pro-life, you are only talking about abortion," Day said. "It can't be that protecting the unborn is enough. It isn't." She notes that certain Republican budget proposals would cut funding for anti-malaria programs that save millions of lives in poor countries. "That's not being pro-life."

Other anti-life cuts are closer to home. "If you cut social safety nets, you're leading women down this road where abortion becomes more plausible," Day said.

"Poverty is the leading abortifacient in America," said Stephen Schneck, director of Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America in Washington and a Democrats for Life board member. …

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