- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2019

The 46th annual March for Life on Friday in Washington promises a diverse lineup of speakers to address tens of thousands of marchers — including two elected pro-life Democrats, an increasing rarity on the national stage.

“I was very upfront when I ran for office. Before I was a Democrat, I was black, a female and pro-life,” Louisiana state Rep. Katrina R. Jackson told The Washington Times. “I don’t even see this issue in a political lens.”

U.S. Rep. Daniel Lipinski of Illinois knows how rare his views on abortion are among fellow Democrats. He won a bruising primary in March in his Chicago district against a liberal challenger who had received more than $3 million in donations from pro-choice causes.

“Certainly, inside Washington, you don’t find pro-life Democrats,” Mr. Lipinksi told The Times. “But about 30 percent of Democratic voters identify themselves as pro-life. And it is a political mistake if the Democratic Party is not welcoming of pro-life candidates and voters.”

Ms. Jackson and Mr. Lipinski are featured speakers for Friday’s rally in downtown Washington. Other speakers include Alveda King, a niece of Martin Luther King Jr. and director of Civil Rights for the Unborn; Ben Shapiro, editor-in-chief of The Daily Wire; and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the pro-life activities panel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Pro-life Democrats are not an endangered species beyond the Beltway, especially in the “Reagan Democrat” area of Southwest Chicago that Mr. Lipinski represents and Ms. Jackson’s district in north-central Louisiana, where many in the Democratic caucus, including the state’s popular governor, are Catholic. They could even be found in Congress not too long ago.

“If you go back 10 years ago, on the Affordable Care Act, when the House voted on the Stupak[-Pitts] Amendment, which barred insurance from covering abortion, it received 64 Democratic votes,” Mr. Lipinski said. “You do not have that kind of support amongst Democrats anymore.”

But Democrats who oppose abortion are facing increasing opposition from their own party.

In 2016, the Democratic National Committee rewrote the party platform to call for stripping the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits government funds from financing abortions. When a pro-life Democrat last year ran for mayor in Omaha, Nebraska, DNC Chairman Tom Perez announced that “every Democrat” should support abortion rights.

Mr. Lipinski, who took over for his father in representing the suburban district in 2005, defeated a primary challenger by just over 2,000 votes. His opponent, Marie Newman, received support from abortion rights organizations such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.

“Abortion was the No. 1 issue,” said Mr. Lipinski, who will speak at the rally for the fourth time.

‘To be a Democrat’

Once upon a time, abortion wasn’t as calcified among the political class. In 1997, four Republicans in the Senate voted against the partial-birth abortion ban. In the late 1990s, the political organization Pro-Life Democrats boasted 43 members in the House of Representatives.

Today, only two Democratic representatives in Congress — both men — consistently vote against abortion. Some socially conservative Democrats no longer see a political home.

“I’m actually not even registered anymore as a Democrat,” said Charles Camosy, associate ethics professor at Fordham University and a board member of Democrats for Life in America.

Mr. Camosy now calls himself a political independent.

“If you look at the party platform, the Democrats were pro-choice for a long time,” he said. “Now it appears to be pro-abortion.”

March for Life organizers say they court people of all political beliefs, as evidenced by their two Democratic and two Republican speakers. But the pickings are slim on the left.

“The last time the Democrats had power in Congress, they had about 40 self-described pro-life members,” said Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs for March for Life. “Now they have about two.”

Mr. McClusky said that, with Mr. Lipinski’s help, he hopes to court more within Congress.

“We need someone other than Dan Lipinski in the caucus meeting standing up and saying, ‘Hey, this is ridiculous,’” he said.

The political reality is that many congressional Democrats will face primary challenges from the progressive wing of the party.

Various pro-choice groups did not respond to requests for interviews with The Washington Times.

In May, The New York Times wrote about the surging efforts of pro-choice organizations: “For Democratic women, no endorsement is as sought after or powerful as one conferred by Emily’s List, which functions as the political equivalent of the old-fashioned ‘Good Housekeeping’ seal of approval for voters and potential donors.”

“In order to be a Democrat, [you need] the leadership, the money, because Planned Parenthood and NARAL are so powerful,” March for Life President Jeanne Mancini told The Washington Times. “It’s just said it’s gotten that way.”

At the state level, pro-life Democrats have fared better at the ballot box. Billie Sutton, a pro-life Democrat, narrowly lost a race for South Dakota governor to Republican Kristi Noem last year.

Ms. Jackson said her voters in Monroe, Louisiana, strongly support her efforts. She sponsored legislation signed by then-Gov. Bobby Jindal restricting hospital admitting privileges to only doctors for performing abortions. Last spring, she also voted to ban abortions after 15 weeks in her state.

According to polling data from right before the 2018 elections, just over half of Americans believe Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, was correct.

But 53 percent of Republicans polled by Public Religion Research Institute in October said Roe v. Wade should be overturned. In the same study, a third of Republicans disagreed with overturning the seminal court decision.

The March for Life, which has the slogan “Pro-Life Is Pro-Science” etched across its website, is expected to outpace the Women’s March on Saturday in attendance. There likely won’t be much crossover appeal between the two groups.

Ms. Jackson, who arrived in Washington this week, doesn’t plan on attending Saturday’s march.

“It would be great if you could have us be friends because we agree on a number of things: expansion of Medicaid, paid maternity leave and other social programs that help young mothers. But that’s just not the case, is it?” she said.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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