Pro-life ques­tion cre­ates rift over Demo­cratic di­rec­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

Some higher-ups in the Demo­cratic Party are tak­ing a softer tone on abor­tion in a bid to win back the blue-col­lar vot­ers who spurned Hil­lary Clin­ton at the bal­lot box, re­veal­ing a schism be­tween the eco­nomic pop­ulists and cul­tural lib­er­als over the di­rec­tion of the party.

Mar­jorie Dan­nen­felser, pres­i­dent of the pro-life Su­san B. An­thony List, said there is an “enor­mous dis­con­nect” be­tween rank-and-file Democrats — onequar­ter to one-third of whom iden­tify as pro-life — and party lead­er­ship, to whom abor­tion is sacro­sanct.

“As they push their party more and more to the ex­treme on abor­tion, the GOP ben­e­fits at the polls,” Ms. Dan­nen­felser said in a state­ment.

The pro-choice wing of the party made con­sid­er­able gains dur­ing the Obama years, amend­ing the party plat­form to en­dorse tax­payer fund­ing for abor­tion and drop­ping the last term in the “safe, le­gal and rare” tri­umvi­rate that be­came the Demo­cratic line on abor­tion

dur­ing Bill Clin­ton’s pres­i­dency.

But that left­ward tilt be­gan to show signs of re­vers­ing last week.

Asked Sun­day whether there is room in the party for peo­ple who are pro-life, the staunchly pro-choice House Mi­nor­ity Leader Nancy Pelosi re­sponded, “Of course.”

“I have served many years in Congress with mem­bers who have not shared my very pos­i­tive — my fam­ily would say ‘ag­gres­sive’ — po­si­tion on pro­mot­ing a woman’s right to choose,” the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­crat said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The cat­a­lyst for re­think­ing the party line on abor­tion came in an un­likely place — the Omaha, Ne­braska, mayoral race — and, iron­i­cally, dur­ing a “Come To­gether and Fight Back” tour spear­headed by some­one who isn’t even a Demo­crat.

Democrats nom­i­nated Heath Mello, a pro-life Catholic, to try to un­seat Mayor Jean Stothert, a Repub­li­can. Mr. Mello, a for­mer Ne­braska law­maker, co-spon­sored the state’s 20-week abor­tion ban and other pro-life leg­is­la­tion and has come un­der fire from abor­tion ad­vo­cates who say he doesn’t rep­re­sent the party’s val­ues.

“If Democrats think the path for­ward fol­low­ing the 2016 elec­tion is to sup­port can­di­dates who sub­sti­tute their own judg­ment and ide­ol­ogy for that of their fe­male con­stituents, they have learned all the wrong lessons and are bound to lose,” Il­yse Hogue, pres­i­dent of NARAL Pro-Choice Amer­ica, said in a state­ment.

Mr. Mello later clar­i­fied his stance on the ques­tion of abor­tion, telling The Huff­in­g­ton Post that he is per­son­ally pro-life but “would never do any­thing to re­strict ac­cess to re­pro­duc­tive health care” as mayor.

Sen. Bernard San­ders, Ver­mont in­de­pen­dent, went to Omaha to cam­paign for Mr. Mello last week as part of the unity tour and de­fended his de­ci­sion to do so.

“We have a Repub­li­can pres­i­dent who ran as a can­di­date as the most un­pop­u­lar can­di­date in mod­ern his­tory in this coun­try,” Mr. San­ders said Sun­day on CBS’ “This Week.” “Repub­li­cans con­trol the House, Se­nate, two-thirds of gov­er­nors’ chairs, and in the last eight years, they have picked up 900 leg­isla­tive seats. Clearly, the Demo­cratic Party has got to change.”

A Washington Post-ABC News poll re­leased Sun­day sup­ports Mr. San­ders’ con­jec­ture that the party’s mes­sage is fall­ing flat.

In the sur­vey, 67 per­cent of re­spon­dents said the Demo­cratic Party is “out of touch with the con­cerns of most peo­ple,” though 62 per­cent said the same of the Repub­li­can Party and 58 per­cent of Pres­i­dent Trump.

MSNBC host Joe Scar­bor­ough said it’s the “cul­tural is­sues that have dis­con­nected Democrats from a lot of Mid­dle Amer­ica.”

“I have been ask­ing all Demo­cratic lead­ers that come on here, ‘Would you be OK with a pro-life per­son if they were from Alabama or from Ken­tucky? And if they’re from Alabama and they agree with you on eco­nom­ics, is it OK if they’re pro-life?’ ” Mr. Scar­bor­ough said last week on “Morn­ing Joe.”

“And I keep hear­ing, ‘No. No it’s not. No it’s not. No it’s not,” he said.

Mr. Trump rode a wave of Catholic sup­port on his way to the White House, car­ry­ing the de­mo­graphic by 52 per­cent to 45 per­cent.

Jay Richards, a se­nior fel­low at the Dis­cov­ery In­sti­tute, said the ques­tion of abor­tion is a non­starter for many Catholics, who might other­wise sup­port Democrats be­cause of their stances on eco­nom­ics, im­mi­gra­tion and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Abor­tion for Catholics is not just one of a bunch of is­sues; it’s con­sid­ered an in­trin­sic moral evil,” Mr. Richards said. “It’s not some­thing on which faith­ful Catholics can le­git­i­mately dis­agree, and that makes it dif­fer­ent from ev­ery other is­sue that we have de­bates be­tween Repub­li­cans and Democrats on.”

De­spite stump­ing for a pro-life mayoral can­di­date, Mr. San­ders en­dorsed but de­clined to cam­paign for Ge­or­gia con­gres­sional can­di­date Jon Os­soff, who is pro-choice and pub­licly ques­tioned the can­di­date’s pro­gres­sive bona fides on eco­nomic is­sues.

While Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee Chair­man Tom Perez ini­tially threw his sup­port be­hind Mr. Mello, he is­sued a stern state­ment af­ter the politi­cian’s pro-life views came to light, even say­ing that “pro-choice” is now an of­fi­cial party lit­mus test.

“I fun­da­men­tally dis­agree with Heath Mello’s per­sonal be­liefs about women’s re­pro­duc­tive health,” Mr. Perez said in the state­ment. “It is a promis­ing step that Mello now shares the Demo­cratic Party’s po­si­tion on women’s fun­da­men­tal rights.

“Ev­ery can­di­date who runs as a Demo­crat should do the same be­cause ev­ery woman should be able to make her own health choices. Pe­riod,” he said.

Other Democrats have also come out against the idea that the party has room for peo­ple with pro-life views.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illi­nois Demo­crat, said the party is open to peo­ple who are per­son­ally pro-life but not those who are will­ing to im­pose that view on oth­ers.

“We need to be un­der­stand­ing of those who take a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion be­cause of per­sonal con­science,” Mr. Durbin said Sun­day on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “But as long as they are pre­pared to back the law, Roe v. Wade, pre­pared to back women’s rights as we de­fine them un­der the law, then I think they can be part of the party.”

As a re­sult, Mr. Richards said, he doesn’t fore­see “a gen­uine re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the ac­tual Demo­cratic Party policy” when it comes to abor­tion.

“This is a rhetor­i­cal game,” he said. “It’s not any kind of in­tel­lec­tual shift. I re­ally don’t think that’s go­ing on.”

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