PHILADELPHIA — Democrats for Life of America spoke about growing the Democratic party by electing more pro-life legislators at a luncheon downtown on Wednesday.
The group also spoke favorably of Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential pick, but stopped short of an endorsement.
“Being anti-abortion does not make you pro-life,” said Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards (D), the luncheon’s keynote speaker who received the Gov. Casey Whole Life Leadership Award. Being truly pro-life means giving women the support they need to raise their children, he said.
When his wife was pregnant with their daughter they learned she would have spina bifida. Edwards said their doctor recommended abortion and took his wife to visit children with the disease at different levels of severity.
His daughter is now 24 years old and training to become a public school counselor.
Edwards said conservatives have difficulty squaring how a person can be both pro-life and a Democrat. The same Catholic beliefs that inspire his pro-life views also inform his support for Medicaid expansion and equal pay for women, he said.
“We don’t just toss people aside,” Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life, told MedPage Today, in explaining the difference between Democrats for Life and pro-life Republicans. Many women have abortions are poor and lack social support. They are often pressured by boyfriends into getting abortions.
“We want to look at all those reasons [for having abortions] and try to pick away at the reasons,” she said.
To that end, her organization helped draft a bill and ultimately got the Pregnancy Assistance Fund, a $25 million grant program, included in the Affordable Care Act. The group also supported raising the minimum wage, giving parental leave, and expanding perinatal hospice.
Day said one in three Democrats is pro-life but in Congress many Democrats remain silent on their views.
“Right now our party is in trouble,” said Day pointing to a colored-coded red and blue map of the United States.
“Since 2008, we’ve lost 912 legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers… 11 governorships have been lost, 69 U.S. House Seats … and 13 U.S. Senate seats,” she said during the luncheon.
One way for Democrats to win back Republican seats is to embrace pro-life candidates.
“We [Democrats] claim to be the big tent party but the platform says that only this group of people [pro-abortion rights] can be allowed in. Around the country Democratic party chairmen are telling people that they can’t run if they’re pro-life and this platform endorses that kind of philosophy,” she told MedPage Today.
When asked about the recently chosen Democratic vice presidential nominee, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), “I think he’ll be a friend and maybe help moderate and open up the party,” Day said. However, she noted, “We only endorse candidates who are both pro-life and Democrat. Those are the criteria.” This means it would not endorse Clinton nor Kaine. But the group also will not back a pro-life Republican.
Edwards said, “I see in him a lot of the things that I aspire to be.” Kaine continues to personally oppose abortion, but on his Senate website, he says that “I support the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions …. The right way to [reduce abortions] is through education and access to health care and contraception rather than by restricting and criminalizing women’s reproductive decisions. For that reason, I oppose efforts to weaken Roe v. Wade.”
On the other hand, some group members didn’t trust the pro-life credentials of the Republican candidates. “I’m convinced that Mike [Pence, the Republican vice-presidential candidate] is pro-life window dressing. He’s a prop for a Trump administration, which will likely not deliver on their promises to pro-life people in the party,” said Rev. Rob Schenck, president and lead missionary of Faith and Action in the Nation’s Capital, a Christian outreach group that lobbies Congress, who attended the luncheon. Schenck said he’s not convinced Trump is pro-life “no matter what he says.”
Schenck has not voted for a Democrat since Pres. Jimmy Carter.
“Now it’s time for me to look again at the party of my youth.”