The field of potential Democratic presidential candidates is expected to be the largest in history — yet none of the two dozen names being bandied about is a pro-lifer.
As the party moves further to the left on abortion, pushing for fewer restrictions and more public funding, it has become almost unthinkable for a pro-life Democrats to make a national run.
One Democrat who might have checked that box, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, announced last month that he won’t run.
Pro-life Democrats have hopes that Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, elected as a pro-life candidate in 2015, will throw his hat into the ring — in 2024. They have all but given up hope of representation in next year’s field.
Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of the last standing pro-life voices in the party’s ranks, said the prospect of the field being 100 percent pro-choice raises concerns about the message the party is sending.
“I think it is a big mistake,” Mr. Manchin told The Washington Times. In states like West Virginia, he said, voters can be pro-life and be Democrat or Republican. “In Washington, it is a little bit more of a challenge.”
Pro-life movement leaders say they are not surprised.
“If there was a pro-life Democrat who was actually running for president and a serious contender that they would allow on stage — that would be the news story,” said Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, a conservative Christian group.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, said “the abortion industry is running the [Democratic Party].”
“There is a significant bloc of pro-life Democrats that are just being totally ignored by the national party and, of course, now its presidential candidates,” Ms. Tobias said.
A voter delivered a similar warning to Sen. Elizabeth Warren during her first swing through Iowa this year, telling the Massachusetts Democrats that her powerful messages on health care and antitrust laws get lost when she talks about “reproductive rights” because a lot of voters in the Midwest “hear the words murdering babies.”
“I know that these are very hard, personal family decisions. I think the role of government here is to back out,” Ms. Warren responded, sparking applause from the audience.
Things are different in the Republican Party, where pro-choice candidates regularly enter the race. They don’t often get far, as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani found out in 2008 and former New York Gov. George E. Pataki found out in 2016.
During one 2016 Republican primary debate, a moderator reminded Mr. Pataki that a pro-choice Republican had not won a single presidential primary contest in 35 years.
The last high-profile pro-life Democrat to run for president was Jimmy Carter in 1976, according to Kristen Day, executive director of pro-life Democrats.
A number of others started out pro-life but adopted pro-choice stances in time to run for the Democratic nomination. Among them are former Vice Presidents Al Gore and Joseph R. Biden, former Rep. Richard Gephardt and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
“They change their position because they know the abortion lobby has a stranglehold on their party,” Ms. Day said. “The reality of the Democratic Party is that it has gone pretty far left on this issue.”
While the Democrats lurch to the left, Republicans are increasingly pulled to the right.
During the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump was repeatedly confronted with his statements from 1999 opposing restrictions on late-term abortion and declaring, “I am very pro-choice.”
Gallup tracking polls show 50 percent of voters believe abortion should be legal in some circumstances, while 29 percent believe the procedure should be legal all the time and 18 percent want it completely barred.
Roughly half of voters say they consider themselves pro-life and the other half pro-choice.
On Capitol Hill, those forces now divide fairly cleanly along party lines.
The number of pro-life Democrats can be counted on a single hand. The same can be said about pro-choice Republicans.
In 2017, newly elected Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez ignited a firestorm when he said, “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health.”
Mr. Perez went on damage control, saying that being pro-choice was not a “litmus test.”
That comment, though, angered Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which has spent heavily on behalf of Democrats who support abortion.
“Yes, indeed, there is a litmus test,” Ms. Day said. “He may say there is not, but there is.”
Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois, one of the few pro-life Democrats in Congress, learned that lesson the hard way last year. His primary challenger, Marie Newman, captured the support of NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List, and even drew backing from Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Vermont independent who, ironically, Mr. Lipinski supported in the 2016 presidential primary.
“I think that speaks a lot about Bernie Sanders,” Mr. Lipinski told The Times. “But yeah, it is difficult to be pro-life and be in the Democratic Party, but I am going to keep going and keep fighting.”
Mr. Lipinski credited the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for House Democrats, for sticking with him in the primary and not bowing to pressure from the powerful pro-choice lobby.
Still, he said the party’s image among pro-life voters has been damaged and that it won’t help if the presidential field doesn’t include a single candidate who shares his pro-life views.
“I think that just looking at it from the building the party aspect that we can’t keep pushing pro-life voters out of the Democratic Party because I certainly have people come up to me all the time back home and tell me they used to be a Democrat, but they feel like they can’t anymore because the voter is pro-life,” Mr. Lipinski said. “I think it especially hurts in places that we really need if we are ever going to pick up any of the seats outside of metropolitan areas.”
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