Quiet as it’s kept, the diminishing Democratic majority in Congress for the past quarter of a century equals the rate at which pro-life Democrats have been abandoning the party. This was the message given to Terry McAuliffe, head of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), when he was visited on March 8 by members of Congress on the National Advisory Board of Democrats for Life of America. Among them were Reps. Bart Stupak of Michigan and James Oberstar of Minnesota.
These are the illuminating statistics — ignored by the media — that were presented to Mr. McAuliffe: In the 95th Congress (1977-78), Democrats had a 292-seat majority in the House of Representatives, which included 125 pro-life Democrats. Now, as a minority, Democrats are down to 204 seats, with 28 pro-life Democrats.
At the meeting, Mr. McAuliffe was told that in certain congressional districts, a pro-life Democrat would be able to win a Republican-leaning seat. Sen. John Kerry and the DNC, said Mr. McAuliffe’s visitors, would be well-advised to look hard at those districts. Mr. McAuliffe told them to talk to Mr. Kerry and the DNC Executive Board.
The pro-life Democratic members of Congress who came to see Mr. McAuliffe asked him to have the DNC Web site provide a link to Democrats for Life of America and to expand the current platform language of the party to accept pro-life Democrats. Also, they would like at least one pro-life speaker at the 2004 Democratic Convention in order to show there is room in the party for debate on the issue.
Former Democrats who felt the party has abandoned pro-lifers entirely have been in contact with Democrats for Life of America once they found out it exists. Their reasons for defection included:
m “It seemed like the Democratic Party became less pro-choice and more pro-abortion during the 1980s. For some reason, freedom of speech and thought stopped when it came to abortion.”
m “The only place where it was OK to talk about both sides of the abortion issue was the Republican Party. Since 1984, I have voted for the Republicans, primarily because of the abortion issue. It hasn’t been easy. I didn’t really like Bush I or Bush II, but when the Democrats shut off any pro-life speeches at the … 1992 convention, I couldn’t vote for Clinton.”
It was at the 1992 Democratic Convention that then-Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey, whom I had the privilege of knowing, was prevented from speaking. This, even though out of all of the governors in the nation, he had done more than any other for the poor (which included providing health insuranceforchildren whosefamilies couldn’t afford it, but were not eligible for public assistance).
Mr. Casey required HMOs to pay for annual mammograms for women over the age of 40, and he set up multidimensional health-care programs for women and children. But the late governor was pro-life, and so Bill Clinton’s convention handlers blocked him from speaking. Mr. Casey asked me at the time: “What has become of the Democratic Party I once knew? It’s become a wholly owned subsidiary of the National Abortion Rights Action League.”
But Mr. Casey did not leave the Democratic Party; he was too committed to its traditions. Many pro-life Democrats, however, have switched or stayed at home rather than vote. Those looking for another reason why party members defected need only look at the House Democrats’ vigorous and unsuccessful opposition to the pending Unborn Victims of Violence bill. If adopted, it would penalize attacks on a pregnant woman as separate federal crimes against the fetus and the mother. Doctors performing legal abortions would be exempted.
House Democrats opposed the bill, despite a Newsweek poll, cited in a Feb. 26 Washington Times editorial, which found that “more than 80 percent of Americans think that the killer of a pregnant woman and her unborn child should face two charges of murder.”
As Illinois Republican Rep. Henry Hyde said during the debate on the House floor about his opponents’ pro-abortion slogan, the right to choose, “There is only one choice, a dead baby or a live baby.”
In the interest of full disclosure, although I have voted as an independent for many years, I am registered as a Democrat in New York City because usually that’s the only way for my voice to be heard in most elections there. Accordingly, I agreed to be listed as a member of the National Advisory Board of Democrats for Life of America because I have often( in this column and other writings, including my books) publicly declared myself to be a non-religious civil libertarian pro-lifer.
And I agree with the question of a former Democrat who told the Democrats for Life of America: “Why has the Republican Party been allowed to hijack the Democratic Party on the issue?”
Democrats for Life of America is located at 1667 K St., N.W., Suite 520, Washington, D.C. 20006 (www.democratsforlife.org).