WASHINGTON — In recent weeks, prominent members of the Democratic Party have debated the party’s litmus test, or lack there of, on abortion and a decision on whether to only back Democrats running for office who support “abortion rights.”
Looking ahead to the 2018 midterm elections, people inside and outside the Democratic Party are discussing the polarizing issue of abortion and the party’s openness to negotiation over support of pro-life candidates.
The discussion was rekindled after Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-New Mexico, stated that the Democratic Party does not have a litmus test for candidates.
The Hill, a political news website, reported July 31 that Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said that the Democratic Party does not have such a test for candidates, rather that candidates should “fit the district” in which they are running.
“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,” Lujan told The Hill.
This comment came as a surprise to many after the Democratic National Committee chairman, Tom Perez, released a statement in April that his party’s commitment to “choice” was non-negotiable.
“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health. That is not negotiable,” Perez said in the statement.
Lujan has since clarified his comments to The Hill, restating his commitment to so-called right to abortion, but reiterating his call for the Democratic Party to open its tent to those with a different opinion on abortion.
“We will have to win in very tough, diverse, swing Republican-held districts across the country,” Lujan told The Hill. “Ultimately, the people in districts across the country will determine who will take on the Republican incumbent.”
The Pew Research Center conducted a survey published July 7 which stated that 22 percent of Democrats believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, but that even within the Democratic Party there is division.
“Within both parties, there are ideological differences over abortion,” the article wrote. “Liberal Democrats are 30 percentage points more likely than conservative and moderate Democrats to favor legal abortion (91 percent vs. 61 percent).”
In reaction to Lujan’s statement, Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life, spoke to Catholic News Service and discussed the current situation for Democrats who are closed to pro-life candidates.
“If you look at the situation we are in right now where a majority of everything is controlled by Republicans,” Day said. “The Democratic Party is searching for, ‘Where did we go wrong?’ There can be a lot of factors, but this issue is one of them. And when you look around the country and there are 69 out of 99 state legislatures controlled by Republicans and a lot of those areas tend to be more pro-life.”
Day said that in 2006 and 2008, the party had larger numbers of pro-life Democrats and was still able to maintain the majority and pass Obamacare.
“Its not surprising that the abortion rights people would be upset about this because the Democratic Party has been holding their water for far too long,” Day said. “The abortion rights messaging and movement has got us into the situation that we are in right now. … It just goes to show that they care more about this issue, rather than the good of the party.”
Marjorie Danenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List organization, reminded people in a statement released Aug. 1 about the Democratic Party’s history with their support of abortion.
“A good group to ask their opinion on this issue would be the pro-life House Democrats that were swept out of office in 2010 because of their pro-abortion vote on Obamacare,” Danenfelser said in a statement. “This led to a Republican majority in the House. They should have been allowed to vote their consciences on the health care bill. It is time to correct that error.”
She was referring to pro-life Democrats who agreed to vote for the Affordable Care Act if President Barack Obama would sign an executive order stipulating no federal funds could be used to pay for abortions. Obama did sign the order, because critics of the law said it did not explicitly ban the use of federal funds for abortion.
Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown of California supported the opening of the “big tent” calling for a return to the party’s original principles.
“Well, the litmus test should be intelligence, caring about, as Harry Truman or Roosevelt used to call it, the common man,” Brown said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Brown continued with Lujan’s idea of “fitting the district” by saying that running in San Francisco is different from running in Mobile, Alabama, according to The Hill.
“I’d say, look, even on the abortion issue, it wasn’t very long ago that a number of Catholic Democrats were opposed to abortion,” Brown said, according to a Breitbart report. “So the fact that somebody believes today what most people believed 50 years ago should not be the basis for their exclusion.”
Several Democrats announced on social media their concerns for a lack of litmus test on abortion. Former DNC chairman Howard Dean tweeted July 31: “I’m afraid I’ll be with holding support for the DCCC if this is true.” Even comedian Rosie O’Donnell got involved, stating on Twitter Aug. 1 that “women should form our own party.”
Day said that Democrats for Life is currently looking for pro-life Democratic candidates for the 2018 midterm elections.
“We want Democrats to win in 2018, but if they keep letting the abortion rights people control the messaging in the party, we’re not,” Day said.