The Vanishing Pro-life Democrat

In a previous post, I mentioned how rare a true pro-life liberal has become. At the local and state level, a few like Ruben Diaz, Sr. still plod along. At the national level, they have completely vanished. The last ones standing were David Bonior, Dennis Kucinich, and Jim Oberstar. But then, almost all at once, Bonior got redistricted into oblivion, Kucinich sold his soul to run for president, and Oberstar flat out stopped caring.

Now, roughly a decade later, even finding a ‘conservative’ pro-life Democrat has become a difficult task. Scurry over to the NRLC website, and check out their ratings for members of the House. Very quickly, even the casual observer will notice one dominant trend: just about every Republican has a 100% rating, and just about every Democrat has a 0% rating. No one can possibly fail to recognize which party is the party of abortion.

To be fair, the NRLC somewhat dubiously includes two health care related votes in their tallies, which artificially inflate the scores of many Republicans, and deflate the scores of many Democrats. Throwing out these two votes, here is a complete list of Democrats who still have perfect pro-life scores.

Mike Ross (AR)

Dan Lipinski (IL)

Jerry Costello (IL)

Joe Donnelly (IN)

Collin Peterson (MN)

Mike McIntyre (NC)

Heath Shuler (NC)

Dan Boren (OK)

Nick Rahall (WV)

But even this list is too large. Ross has cast many pro-choice votes in prior years. Boren is a supporter of embryonic stem cell research. Rahall, Costello, and Donnelly all voted for the health care bill in 2010 despite opposition from the vast majority of the pro-life movement. That leaves Lipinski, Peterson, McIntyre, and Shuler as the truly reliable.  Out of a caucus of more than 190, that is an especially dismal performance.

The Senate is even grimmer. All 53 members of the Democratic caucus voted against defunding Planned Parenthood when it came to a vote this year. Senators like Bob Casey, Ben Nelson, and Joe Manchin, who all campaigned as pro-life, showed their true colors during that vote. Long gone are Democrats like Thomas Eagleton, William Proxmire, and Bennett Johnston, who could actually be counted on to stand up for human life.

To come directly to the point, on the national scale, pro-life Democrats have almost completely melted away. Increasingly, the pro-life movement is becoming exclusively a Republican endeavor. The few remaining Democrats, like Dan Lipinski and Heath Shuler, are little more than tokens. Their help is no longer needed, except perhaps to lend pro-life legislation a meaningless ‘bipartisan’ moniker.

As one might expect, this was not always the case. Go back a few decades, and you will find a Democratic party that was anything but homogenous on the abortion issue. For an illustration, I will use the final vote on the original Hyde amendment from 1976. Out of 244 Democrats, 152 voted yea, and only 92 voted nay. 62% of Democrats voted against taxpayer funded abortion! Needless to say, a similar vote breakdown today would be unthinkable.

Just this month, Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life, claimed that she sees the party as “being more open. The pro-choice litmus tests are decreasing.” Well maybe they are, but I chalk that up to the pro-life faction of the party no longer being significant enough to warrant litmus tests anymore. At least 19 times out of 20, a novice Democratic politician will be pro-choice. If litmus tests are on the wane, the future is hardly bright.

Pro-life Democrats are an optimistic bunch. Theirs, they say, is the party of equality, the party of compassion, the party of the little people. Surely one day, they will realize the incompatibility of abortion with these ideals. And yet, for forty years, liberals as a whole have done nothing but run farther and farther toward the extremist edges of pro-choice ideology. Past performance is not a flawless indicator of the future, but for the moment, the outlook for pro-life Democrats can only be reasonably described as bleak.

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