The Dilemma of Pro-Life Democrats

Democrats for Life in America (DFLA) was founded in 1999 on the premise that approximately one-third of Democrats are pro-life; and it has been valiantly championing the pro-life cause in congressional and presidential elections since that time.  The pro-life Democrats include many who are against unrestricted elective abortions, and/or who favor exceptions for rape, incest, and threats to the life of the mother.

In spite of considerable opposition from fellow Democrats, they find their home in the Democratic Party on the basis of their belief that this is the party that offers the fullest support for women, not just in cases of difficult pregnancy decisions; and they believe the Democratic Party can be relied on to guarantee social “safety nets” for those who need them.  Also, there is the widespread belief that the Democratic Party is the party with the history of protecting civil rights (a mistaken belief which I discussed in a recent column).

The DFLA has a policy of never endorsing Republicans; however, they did refuse to endorse “pro-choice” John Kerry in the 2004 election against Bush. On their website, they state their comprehensive pro-life purpose:

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Democrats for Life of America exists to foster respect for life, from the beginning of life to natural death. This includes, but is not limited to, opposition to abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia. Democrats for Life of America is one of over 200 member organizations of Consistent Life: an international network for peace, justice and life.

Those readers who are familiar with Cardinal Bernardin’s “seamless garment” position on life issues during the 1990s will recognize a similarity of language in the above statement, which may not be coincidental.

In the 2010 Congressional elections the DFLA suffered considerable losses.  They lamented the fact that fourteen pro-life members of Congress either retired or were defeated by Republicans, thus contributing to the control of the House of Representatives by Republicans.

This year, prior to the Democratic convention in Charlotte, NC, the DFLA made persistent efforts to persuade party leaders to adopt in their platform a “big tent” approach, which they spelled out as follows:

We believe that we can reduce the number of abortions because we are united in our support for policies that assist families who find themselves in crisis or unplanned pregnancies.  We believe that women deserve to have a breadth of options available as they face pregnancy: including, among others, support and resources needed to handle the challenges of pregnancy, adoption, and parenthood; access to education, healthcare, childcare; and appropriate child support.  We envision a new day without financial or societal barriers to bringing a planned or unplanned pregnancy to term.

In spite of the mildness and reasonableness of this declaration, it was turned down by party leaders; and in fact the Democratic platform was crafted with even more adamant pro-abortion language than any previous platform.

As a result, the DFLA has commendably and consistently decided not to endorse Barak Obama for the election this coming November, but has ended up with the following rather non-committal position:

We do not endorse Republican candidates and we do not endorse candidates who take a public position to support abortion. Since neither of the candidates meet our criteria, we will not endorse a candidate in the 2012 Presidential Race.

One would presume that the logical conclusion of a card-carrying DFLA member, reading this recommendation of abstention, would be to not vote at all for president in November.  But the option and the recommendation remains: DFLA recommends that their members vote for a select number of declared pro-life Democratic candidates for Congress who are running this year, and who are endorsed by the DFLA. This list includes Bob Casey (PA), Joe Donnelly (IN), Tim Kaine (VA), Joe Manchin (WV), Mark Critz (PA), Gary McDowell (MI), Daniel Lipinski (IL), Mike McIntyre (NC), Nick Rahall (WV), Mike Doyle (PA), Steve Pestka (MI), Charlie Wilson (OH), Marcy Kaptur (OH), Hayden Rogers (NC), Chris Henrichsen (WY), Brendan Mullen (IN), Dave Crooks (IN), and John Ewing (NE).

A Republican who is dissatisfied with a Republican Congressional candidate’s position on abortion or other issues might decide to make a point by voting for one of these Democrats—although political considerations like majorities in the House and Senate may complicate his or her decision.

A person reading the 2012 Platform of the Democratic Party, which supports unrestricted abortion rights, and who is familiar with the thinking of the current leadership of the Democrats, might conclude that a more appropriate title for the party would be “The Abortion Party.”

However, the fact that there are Democratic candidates who voluntarily affiliate with the Democrats for Life of America can be taken as a sign that change is still possible even among confirmed Democrats. Yet, as the number of pro-life Democratic candidates in many states gets smaller and smaller, or non-existent, a DFLA member may find that his only option is to discreetly vote Republican.


  • Howard Kainz

    Howard Kainz is professor emeritus at Marquette University. He is the author of several books, including Natural Law: an Introduction and Reexamination (2004), The Philosophy of Human Nature (2008), and The Existence of God and the Faith-Instinct (2010).

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