After the DCCC Chair came out against a “litmus test” on abortion last week, the group was met with a massive backlash from pro-choice activists.
Now the DCCC is backtracking, distancing itself from pro-life Democrats.
The [DCCC] also seems intent on distancing itself from pro-life activists. Kristen Day of Democrats for Life of America, a nonprofit organization that bills itself as the pro-life “wing” of the Democratic Party, told me the “lines of communication are open” between her group and the campaign committee, and she believes they’ll be able to work together. But [DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly] pushed back against that idea: “The DCCC has no interest in working with Democrats for Life of America, despite their attempts.”
“The DCCC has no interest in working with Democrats for Life of America, despite their attempts," a spox told me https://t.co/9lXQYRu0k1— Clare Foran (@ckmarie) August 10, 2017
Should the Democratic Party Reject Pro-Life Candidates?
August 10, 2017
Its current platform upholds “safe and legal” abortion, but some activists want its leaders to draw a line at supporting those who would legislate based on their beliefs.
During the 2016 election, the Democratic Party endorsed an end to a longstanding ban on federal funding for abortion—one aspect of a platform that NARAL Pro-Choice America praised as “the best ever for reproductive freedom.” After President Trump’s election, the Women’s March, which advocated for access to abortion, galvanized the party’s base. Now, however, the party is facing criticism from some pro-choice activists who say it’s sidelining their agenda.
Last week, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Ben Ray Luján refused to rule out helping pro-life Democrats win election to the House, saying instead that there will be no “litmus test” on abortion in 2018. The comments provoked swift backlash: Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL, denounced the approach as “an ethically and politically bankrupt strategy.” Feminist writers accused the party of selling out women and making “a disastrous mistake.”
“The Democratic Party has a power vacuum, and the core concern is that the party would errantly move away from a commitment to women’s human rights as it tries to rebuild,” Erin Matson, a former vice president of the National Organization for Women and self-described reproductive-rights activist based in Virginia, said in an interview.
Tensions over how far party leaders will go to welcome, or reject, pro-life Democrats have simmered since Trump’s election, boiling over in April over a mayoral race in Nebraska and again last week with the latest controversy over whether the party should have a litmus test.
“We were excited to see the repeal of the Hyde Amendment included as part of a political party platform, and to go from that to now seeing the Democratic Party trying to appeal to people who support anti-abortion restrictions is a huge concern for us,” Yamani Hernandez, the executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a non-partisan organization that advocates for abortion access, said in an interview. “It’s surprising, and disappointing.”
Responding to the backlash, the DCCC has emphasized that its mission is to win back the House precisely so that Democrats can legislate on the party platform. “Protecting a woman’s health care, her right to choose, and her economic security are fundamental tenets of the Democratic Party, and as long as Republicans control Congress and the White House those values are constantly at risk,” DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said in a statement.
The organization also seems intent on distancing itself from pro-life activists. Kristen Day of Democrats for Life of America, a nonprofit organization that bills itself as the pro-life “wing” of the Democratic Party, told me the “lines of communication are open” between her group and the campaign committee, and she believes they’ll be able to work together. But Kelly pushed back against that idea: “The DCCC has no interest in working with Democrats for Life of America, despite their attempts.”
High-profile pro-choice activists and their progressive allies have framed the party’s unwavering support for abortion access as an electoral necessity, and argued that backing away from a staunchly pro-choice agenda could cost it crucial support. A coalition of progressive groups—including Democracy for America, MoveOn Political Action, and Indivisible Project—issued a statement of principles last week arguing that access to abortion is “not a secondary issue,” and warning that “to organize, mobilize, and win elections we must field candidates who understand the integral nature of these core values.”
Meanwhile, pro-life Democrats have argued the opposite. The last time Democrats took control of the House was in 2006, with a mix of liberal and moderate-to-conservative candidates winning election. The DCCC chairman at the time, current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, rejected litmus tests, and pro-life Democrats have pointed to that victory to make the case that the party should not demand ideological purity. Now, some pro-life Democrats are arguing that expanding their ranks within the party could be key to victory next year. “We are going to need pro-life candidates in some of the districts that we need to win the House,” Illinois congressman Dan Lipinski, who identifies as pro-life, said in an interview.
In the run-up to 2018, pro-choice activists will be watching closely to see how leaders respond if any pro-life candidates gain traction—searching for signs that the party’s center of gravity might be shifting further in their favor, or against it.
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