California Gov. Jerry Brown said Sunday that the Democratic Party should be open to abortion foes, dealing another blow to the pro-choice movement as it struggles to hold the line against pro-life candidates.
“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,” Mr. Brown said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “So the fact that somebody believes today what most people believed 50 years ago should not be the basis for their exclusion.”
Mr. Brown, a former Jesuit novice, waded into a debate that has roiled the party for months as leaders seek to broaden the party’s appeal after a losing 2016 campaign.
Rep. Ben Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, touched off an uproar last week when he said that “there is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” referring to abortion.
“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,” the New Mexico Democrat told the Hill.
Pro-choice leaders quickly denounced his comments and characterized any move toward opening the tent to pro-life candidates as a betrayal.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, New York Democrat, responded on Twitter a few days later: “We do not have to make compromises on protecting women’s health to win back the House and Senate.”
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>We do not have to make compromises on protecting women’s health to win back the House or Senate.</p>— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SenGillibrand/status/892832785572012034”>August 2, 2017</a></blockquote>
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Thirteen progressive groups, led by NARAL Pro-Choice America, issued a statement of principles saying that they were willing to share the party with “self-identified ‘pro-life’ legislators up until the moment they seek to impose those personal views on their constituents and the country.”
“If they vote to restrict abortion access or contraception access, they then undercut the party platform and they undercut the welfare of women,” said the coalition, which included Planned Parenthood, MoveOn.org, American Federation of Teachers, Daily Kos, Indivisible, and the Progression Change Campaign Committee.
The abortion issue rose to the forefront in April when Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont Independent, endorsed Democrat Heath Mello for Omaha mayor even though he had previously sponsored pro-life legislation.
The move prompted Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez to declare that, “Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and health. That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
Since then, however, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi have pushed back against the idea of an abortion litmus test, with Mr. Schumer saying Democrats are “strongly pro-choice” but also a “big-tent party.”
Mr. Brown said that the Democratic base is “shifting” and includes environmentalists, gun owners, “pro-choice people,” and religious fundamentalists—”not very many, but they’re there.”
“In America, we’re not ideological. We’re not like a Marxist party in 1910,” Mr. Brown said. “We are big tent by the very definition.”