The Catholic News Agency is reporting that a Democratic committee has rejected an appeal to “acknowledge and welcome differing positions on the issue of abortion.” The group pushing the new language, Democrats for Life of America, said that nearly one-third of all Democrats self-identify as pro-life. In the 2008 election, about one-fourth of Obama’s supporters considered themselves pro-life. A representative said, “We represent a large contingent and a diverse group of pro-life democrats who want to be represented in the Democratic Party . . . As a big tent party that is open-minded and inclusive, we should be welcoming to those who are pro-life.” But the committee this month said no.
My book Moral Minority shows that this rebuffing of evangelical pro-lifers is not new. It’s rooted in the early 1970s, when a Democratic Party that was arguably more pro-life than the Republican Party began to transform toward a pro-choice orthodoxy. Here’s an excerpt from the manuscript that describes the new trajectory:
As President Carter soon discovered, insurgent resolve launched the Party on a new pro-choice trajectory. Calling abortion “wrong” and explaining that Roe v. Wade was “one instance where my own beliefs were in conflict with the laws of this country,” Carter’s equivocations on abortion offended growing numbers on the political left. Pro-choice feminists denounced the Democrats’ official 1976 platform that recognized “the legitimacy of both pro-life and pro-choice views.” They condemned Carter’s support of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited most Medicaid payments for abortion. They resented the fact that devout, pro-life Catholic Joseph A. Califano, Carter’s Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, enforced the Amendment strictly. Presidential assistant Margaret Costanza fielded an extraordinary number of phone calls from public interest groups, the public, and even other White House staff members “expressing concern and even anger” over Carter’s position. Costanza urged Carter to reconsider. The President wrote a stark “no” on her written request, adding that his public statement was “actually more liberal than I feel personally.” Costanza, in turn, called a protest meeting of nearly 40 high-level pro-choice female members of the administration in July 1977. Carter did not yield, and Costanza eventually resigned. In 1980 Democrats adopted an explicit pro-choice position and strictly enforced the new orthodoxy. Formerly pro-life, Ted Kennedy had declared to a Massachusetts constituent in 1971 that “wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized—the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.” Within a decade, Kennedy reversed course. Other pro-life politicians with evangelical or Catholic backgrounds such as John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, Mario Cuomo, Bob Kerrey, Dick Durbin, and Bill Clinton, also become leading defenders of the right to choose. In fact, five of the contenders for the Democratic nomination in 1988—Jesse Jackson, Joe Biden, Paul Simon, Dick Gephardt, and Al Gore—had flipped to a pro-choice position under party pressure.