Pro-life advocates and Democrats are lamenting the absence of abortion as a debate topic among the Democratic presidential candidates, calling for a little nuance on the issue.
“CNN didn’t notice the life issue last night,” the advocacy group Students for Life of America said in a fundraising email after the last week’s Democratic debates in Detroit.
A writer for the left-leaning website Jezebel chastised the Democratic contenders for avoiding saying the word “abortion.”
“Is ‘abortion’ a dirty word?” opens the article from contributor Esther Wang. “Democratic presidential candidates on the debate stage on Wednesday night seemed to think so!”
Democrats for Life of America, an advocacy group, held its annual Pro-Life for the Whole Life conference in East Lansing, Michigan, a few days before the two-night debates in Detroit.
“In the pro-life community, people think that you only oppose abortion, but being Democrats, we have a broader definition of it,” Kristen Day, Democrats for Life’s executive director, told CBS News affiliate WLNS.
“Whole life” advocacy includes support for ending capital punishment and establishing a livable wage, affordable health care, criminal justice reform and equal pay, among other issues.
Estimates vary on how many Democrats oppose abortion. According to a Marist poll conducted in February by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, 34% of Democrats consider themselves “pro-life.”
But the poll also shows that identifying oneself as pro-life is not the same as supporting efforts to outlaw abortion. States that have enacted bans on abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy or earlier have found that not all pro-life voters oppose abortion in every circumstance. The Marist poll found that 80% of Americans are comfortable with abortion limited to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
For those Democrats who lean toward abortion restrictions, the party appears to be going in the opposite direction. Finding a candidate who supports tightening abortion restrictions is difficult.
In June, Vice President Joseph R. Biden denounced his longtime support for the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal dollars for paying for abortions. When Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii entered politics in 2001, she initially opposed increasing abortion access, but her voting record in Congress has a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood.
A purported moderate, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock — who vetoed an infant born-alive bill this spring — called himself pro-choice on the debate stage last week. Earlier this year, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, spoke with nuance in favor of lifting restrictions on late-term abortions, saying he trusts women “to draw the line.”
A few pro-life Democrats remain on the national scene — Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin III and Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski.
And there’s some evidence to suggest that Democrats running for local office are increasingly bucking party orthodoxy. For example, six Democratic lawmakers in North Carolina recently voted to require medical professionals provide life-saving care for infants born after an abortion attempt.
What’s more, unrestricted access to abortion is unpopular among non-white Democratic voters. In a 2017 YouGov survey, 40% of Hispanic Democrats said the party should only support candidates who believe abortion should generally be illegal.
Political strategist Jacob Lupfer, who advises independents and moderates of both parties, believes it’s time for a 2020 pro-life Democrat.
“Our goal remains to persuade a credible, qualified pro-life Democrat to enter the 2020 race,” said Mr. Lupfer, strategist with The Relay Group.
He says a pro-life Democrat has a “lane” that is a mile wide and could meet the qualifications the Democratic National Committee has set for getting onto the debate stage.
“We believe that pretty much anyone who runs would almost instantly poll at least 4 to 6%, which would put him or her toward the top of the middle tier,” Mr. Lupfer said.