There was a time when many Progressive Conservatives and Republicans supported so-called abortion rights and many Liberals, NDP, and Democrats were pro-life. (The joke used to be that all those right-wing politicians needed abortion to be legal so they could cover up their mistresses’ pregnancies.) The early pages of The Interim featured advertisements for both Liberals for Life and Tories for Life. By the mid-1990s, there were still dozens of pro-life Liberals in Ottawa and pro-life Democrats in Washington. The left-wing pro-life politician may have been exotic but it wasn’t an endangered species. Or so we thought. The story of the political realignment of the last few decades cannot be told in this editorial, but for complex reasons, generally speaking, the political parties began to adhere to roughly down-the-line right-of-center and left-of-center platforms with the politicians to match those priorities. Sophisticated studies of voters, though, find that while political parties and their leaderships are becoming more ideological, the public has diverse sets of principles and policy preferences. Just because one is pro-life need not mean a voter favours tax cuts, free trade, or less social spending.
In this edition, we examine the growing movement of vocal pro-life progressives. This phenomenon seems to be more prominent south of the border, but any discussion among pro-life university students in Canada will find more diversity of opinion on other issues than the mainstream media’s pigeon-holing of the movement would suggest. The same is true of discussions on moral issues at the Knights of Columbus dance, Catholic Women’s League luncheon, or after-church barbeque.
There is a case to be made that pro-life principles are consistent with progressive ideas. The fight for human rights has long been associated with modern liberalism and standing up for the voiceless and oppressed has been a hallmark of progressive causes for the last century. The Left ignoring the preborn might be viewed as an abandonment of core principles that many on the left, including self-identified feminists, secularists, and homosexuals, can no longer countenance.
Three decades ago, the NDP began disallowing pro-life candidates from running under their party banner. In 2014, Justin Trudeau announced he would not longer permit pro-life candidates from running as Liberals despite the long and illustrious history of pro-life Grits.
The Democrats in the United States has become increasingly strident in its abortion advocacy, with Hillary Clinton dropping the “rare” part of her husband’s famous pro-abortion mantra to make it “safe, legal, and rare.” When the Democrats would suffer an election drubbing over the culture wars, they began looking for culturally conservative candidates for governor, senator, and congressman, but these are short-lived political tactics rather than a rethink of their core values or genuine respect for viewpoint diversity. It is a cynical pandering in isolated parts of the country. The leadership retrenched to abortion absolutism.
After the surprising defeat of Hillary Clinton at the hands of Donald Trump in 2016, the Democrats are once again considering allowing a few, strategically chosen pro-life candidates to run. That’s a start. But the Left should seriously reflect not only on its electoral results but core principles and wonder whether its commitment to human rights should extend to the tiniest human beings.