As Donald Trump’s approval ratings appear to slump, the Democrats are hoping to take back the House of Representatives in 2018. Their strategy, unlike that of Canada’s Liberal Party or New Democratic Party, will not exclude pro-lifers.
Though the 2016 Democratic platform called for support for Planned Parenthood, opposition to abortion restrictions both in the United States and around the world, and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment which bans public funding for abortion except in cases of rape or incest or when the mother’s life is in danger, their latest policy push does not mention abortion at all, and focuses solely on the economy. Furthermore, going forward, some leaders within the Democratic Party have committed to not withholding funding from candidates who oppose abortion.
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) said in an interview with The Hill published on July 31, “There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates” His rationale: “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”
Earlier in the year, multiple high-profile Democrats – House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), all strong pro-abortion politicians – expressed similar sentiments after former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was criticized for rallying for Heath Mello, an Omaha mayoral candidate at the time who, in the past, supported bills restricting abortion.
Pelosi said, “This is the Democratic Party. This is not a rubber-stamp party,” adding that most of her family is not “pro-choice.” “You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?” she asked.
Because in Canada the Liberal Party and the NDP bar pro-lifers from running as candidates, many pro-lifers have turned to the Conservative Party. Due to this shift, the gains the Republican party has made in the U.S. in terms of pro-life legislation, and the common (and often accurate) stereotype of pro-lifers as right-wing Christians found in the media and pop culture, some people might be surprised to hear that there is such a thing as pro-life Democrats at all.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, would have one believe that “pro-life” and “Democrat” are mutually exclusive, claiming on Twitter that “people who vote anti-women, anti-abortion will never vote D. They’re not down w/ freedoms and principles that democrats should stand for.”
The pro-life movement, however, is seemingly much more diverse, or at least atypical pro-lifers are becoming more visible.
Democrats for Life of America, Pro Life Pagans, and the Consistent Life Network celebrated Luján’s pledge that the Democratic Party would be inclusive of pro-lifers. Secular Pro-Life shared the news and Students for Life of America encouraged the party to adopt a pro-life platform as well.
Other less conventional pro-lifers, like those represented by groups such as the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, Feminists for Life, Rehumanize International, Pro-Life Atheists, Pro-Life Vegans/Vegetarians, and Pro Life Socialists, were also likely pleased that at the very least, the box that society puts pro-lifers into had not shrunk.
The backlash from pro-choice lobby groups and leftist media, however, was strong and swift.
Hogue captured the general reaction with her statement that “ignoring women’s fundamental freedoms and equality to win elections is both an ethically and politically bankrupt strategy.”
Of course, pro-lifers and some abortion advocates would dispute her allegation that a strategy which does not immediately reject all pro-life Democratic candidates is, in fact, ethically bankrupt. For her allegation to be true, not only would pro-lifers have to be categorically wrong about abortion, but also the moral good of permitting debate within the party on a controversial issue would have to be negligible in comparison to the supposed moral harm of allowing pro-life candidates to run as Democrats.
Her allegation that this strategy is politically bankrupt as well is also doubtful.
According to the Pew Research Center, around three in ten Democrats say that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Democrats for Life says that there are 21 million pro-life Democrats in the party.
Perhaps if it was made clear that these pro-life Democrats were not wanted in the party, they might switch allegiances to a party that does accommodate them, as seems to have happened in Canada. In addition, as Democrats for Life points out, there are even more “pro-Life voters who would be willing to side with the Democrats if they thought that the issues most important to them could at least be part of the conversation.”
In Canada, for instance, Pro-Life Humanists encouraged voters to support the Green Party in the 2015 federal election, for they do allow pro-life candidates to run, and they do not whip votes. (Indeed, in 2015 Campaign Life Coalition ranked the Pickering-Uxbridge Green Party candidate Anthony Navarro as being supportable due to his pro-life position.)
Historically, pro-lifers in Canada could be found in parties across the political spectrum. Liberals for Life used to be a prominent voice in Canada’s pro-life movement. Former Liberal MP Tom Wappel estimated that at the beginning of his career as a pro-life politician, 40 per cent of the Liberal Party was comprised of pro-lifers. Campaign Life Coalition estimated that at least a quarter of Jean Chretien’s Liberal caucus was pro-life.
Joe Borowski, who went on an 80-day hunger strike to protest abortion and initiated a court case in defense of the preborn child’s right to life, served as a cabinet minister for Manitoba’s NDP government in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Left-wing parties are, at least in theory, supposed to champion the weak, to advocate for equality and inclusiveness, to right systemic wrongs. The Liberal Party of Canada’s constitution repeatedly mentions “human dignity.” The NDP’s constitution states at the outset, “Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. New Democrats are Canadians who believe we can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity.” In practice, these commitments are not extended to the unborn, but it is possible to see how pro-lifers could easily be accommodated in these parties. The principles at play are the same.
Mehdi Hasan, in an article tiled, “Being pro-life doesn’t make me any less of a lefty,” in the New Statesman, mentions a lamentation of the famous (somewhat) pro-life atheist Christopher Hitchens that the “majority of feminists and their allies have stuck to the dead ground of ‘Me Decade’ possessive individualism, an ideology that has more in common than it admits with the prehistoric right, which it claims to oppose but has in fact encouraged.” Hasan elaborates, saying, “Abortion is one of those rare political issues on which left and right seem to have swapped ideologies: right-wingers talk of equality, human rights and ‘defending the innocent,’ while left-wingers fetishise ‘choice,’ selfishness and unbridled individualism.”
Not only are there grounds for leftists being pro-life, but there are grounds for pro-lifers being leftists.
Elizabeth Stoker wrote in an article titled, “Why I’m a pro-life liberal,” in The Week: “Abortions are as much the result of a culture inhospitable to life as they are to the weak sources of support that arise out of that culture and the decisions of individual mothers.” She challenged the culture “to put its money where its mouth is – that is, to provide robust support programs that render feasible the entire process of childbearing and childbirth, from pregnancy to child care to the total span of family life.” For her, such programs include universal health care, paid parental leave, and a child allowance. Democrats for Life of America list a higher minimum wage too.
A pro-life position can also be shown to be consistent with other identities that are commonly (but not necessarily by principle) associated with leftists. Self-identified LGBTQ individuals who are pro-life members see the fight for unborn rights as a continuation of their own (perceived) fight for equality. Should a gay gene ever be discovered, they do not wish for unborn children to be aborted for that reason. Vegans, vegetarians, and animal rights activists may extend the right to life to all creatures, including unborn human beings. Finally, there is a variety of feminism specifically called “pro-life feminism,” which deems abortion a tool of the patriarchy and is encapsulated in the popular slogan: “Our liberation cannot be bought with the blood of our children.”
The United States may have a two party system, but at least this range of perspectives has a hope of being reflected in legislation. In Canada, it seems the only pro-lifers who currently have a reasonable chance of being elected are going to be Conservatives, and this reality also leaves the Conservative Party in the comfortable position of knowing that it will likely get the votes of most pro-lifers, even if it does nothing to advance the pro-life agenda.
This state of affairs over-exaggerates the partisanship of the issue. A 2016 Insights West poll found that 49 per cent of Liberals and 53 per cent of New Democrats either strongly or somewhat agreed that there should be restrictions placed on when a woman can get an abortion, in comparison to 66 per cent of Conservatives. Yet so long as the status quo remains, it is highly unlikely that Canada will see any restrictions on abortion. If, as Wappel argued, anti-abortion legislation will require bi-partisan support, pro-life Conservatives will need pro-life Liberals and vice versa. The same message heard south of the border would have to be heard here: Yes, it is possible to be a pro-life leftist. And the pro-life right should want that, too.