This article originally appeared online at The American Spectator on January 5, 2011.
Death of the Pro-Life Democrat
By Paul Kengor
As the 112th Congress is sworn in, an already endangered species is nearing extinction in the Capitol Building: the pro-life Democrat. This increasingly rare bird is in the process of committing political suicide.
That the Democrats took a thumping in the mid-term election of November 2 is, of course, obvious. The dramatic switch from Democrat to Republican control of the House of Representatives is unprecedented in modern times. Over 60 seats changed from Democrat to Republican, giving the Republicans a huge majority.
Less-remarked upon, however, was the switch from so-called “pro-choice” legislators to pro-life ones, which, not coincidentally, accompanied that move from Democrat to Republican. Marjorie Dannenfelser, director of the excellent group Susan B. Anthony List, which seeks to elect pro-life women (from either party) to Congress, counts 38 switches from “pro-choice” to pro-life from the 111th to 112th Congress, plus another 14 seats where “unreliable” pro-life members were replaced with “reliable” pro-life votes. In all, 52 seats were “strengthened” into a more pro-life position.
Congressman Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a longtime pro-life stalwart, celebrates that this January marks “the beginning of the arguably most pro-life House ever.” Smith calls it “another message to President Obama that the American people will not be fooled by the Obama administration’s accounting gimmicks and phony executive orders. They expect their elected officials to stand up for life without backing down.”
This is a clear reference to the “Bart Stupak Democrats,” who voted yes on the “Obamacare” healthcare bill that provides taxpayer funding of abortion; they were duped into thinking that President Obama’s corresponding executive order will ban abortion funding. This was quite a leap of faith for these pro-life Democrats. Recall that one of Obama’s first acts of president was to overturn the Mexico City policy, thereby providing taxpayer dollars to groups like International Planned Parenthood. Most of those pro-life Democrats now find themselves no longer in Congress. Some, like Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA), were defeated in landslides.
Perhaps sweetest justice of all, leadership of the House goes from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), a tectonic shift in the pro-life direction, from one lifelong Roman Catholic to another — but with only Boehner applying the “social justice” narrative (not to mention the Church’s teaching) to the unborn.
Likewise, the U.S. Senate includes notable gains for the pro-life movement. In Florida, Marco Rubio, rising Republican star, registered a remarkable victory in a three-candidate race in November, trouncing a turncoat ex-Republican endorsed by Bill Clinton, the president who vetoed bans on partial-birth abortion. In Arkansas, pro-life Republican John Boozman defeated incumbent Democrat Blanche Lincoln. In a major upset in Wisconsin, pro-life Republican Ron Johnson defeated Democrat incumbent Russ Feingold, a dependable vote for the abortion lobby. Other significant pro-life wins occurred in North Dakota, Indiana, and elsewhere. In a giant relief in Pennsylvania, pro-lifer Pat Toomey edged out Democrat Joe Sestak, who was atrocious on human-life issues. All of these gains help mitigate the pain of Californians handily re-electing Barbara Boxer, returning to the Senate a woman with a ghastly record on the unborn.
In short, the Democratic Party has descended, yet further, down the death path, with preciously few pro-lifers in the House or the Senate. We’re approaching the point where you may be able to count them on two hands, potentially even one hand. We’re also approaching a point where a serious pro-life Democrat voter will find it increasingly difficult to find a pro-life Democrat politician to vote for.
Alas, I say this with regret. I’m a pro-life Republican, but as one who studies history, I know that the parties, and what they stand for, change over time. I’m far more concerned with the lives of unborn babies than political lives of Republicans. I don’t support “pro-choice” Republicans; in fact, I’ve actively worked for their defeat. I’m an American deeply saddened by the Death Culture thrust upon this great nation through the evil of Roe v. Wade in January 1973.
Ever since Roe, the Democratic Party, in particular, has veered down a tragic path. For a time, in the early years around Roe, it wasn’t completely clear where the two major parties, Democrat and Republican, would align on the matter of unborn human life. It has taken some time, but, ultimately, the progression has been steady toward the Republicans becoming the party of life and the Democrats the party of death. Importantly, there are exceptions to this, but, by and large, and certainly in Congress, we can confidently say that the vast majority of Republicans are pro-life while the vast majority of Democrats are not. If it isn’t quite 90-10%, it’s close.
In fact, a fascinating analysis of Catholic members of Congress, done by the National Catholic Register and National Right to Life, finds that of those with a 0%-5% pro-life ranking, all are Democrats, whereas of those with a 95-100% pro-life ranking, all are Republicans. That’s a stunning religious-cultural-political shift.
Along this descent, there were Democrats who tried to stop the train-wreck. One was a governor in my home state of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey (who was also Catholic), who was distraught over the fact that his party, which prided itself as defender of the “little guy,” the poor, the downtrodden, the needy, was turning its back on the most innocent among us: the unborn child. When Casey pleaded for a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, to share that message, Bill and Hillary Clinton and the self-proclaimed apostles of “tolerance,” diversity,” and “open-mindedness” refused him a platform. Looking back, that was a telling moment.
How telling? If you’re a new voter looking for a political party, choose the Democrats if you want unrestricted abortion, potentially even taxpayer-funded; choose the Republicans, if you don’t. The choice is pretty simple.
It’s a sad development for the culture and the country. It further polarizes the abortion issue, and more starkly along party lines than ever before. For pro-life Republicans in Congress, it’s a loss, as they will need pro-life Democrats as precious allies. No one — Republicans included — should celebrate the Democratic Party becoming the Death Party. No one — Republicans included — should welcome such a moral degeneration of a onetime great political party.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.