Kristen Day is the executive director of Democrats for Life and oversees all operations of its Washington, D.C., office. Recently, Crux contributor Charles Camosy sat down with Day to discuss the dynamics of the 2016 presidential race and, more broadly, the political landscape in America.
Camosy: There used to be a large number of pro-life Democrats in Congress, but now there are very few. What happened?
Day: Back 30 years ago, one’s position on abortion did not determine if you were a Democrat or a Republican. Abortion politics gradually infected both parties until we have reached an all-time high with respect to the politicization of the issue. While a majority of the country is in the middle, the Republican Party has become the “pro-life” party and the Democrats have become the “abortion” party.
If the Democratic Party were to adopt a position of moderation and inclusiveness, they would be unstoppable.
The Republicans saw this danger in 2010 when Democrats in the House and Senate were fighting against taxpayer funding of abortion. Over sixty democrats voted for the Stupak Amendment and there was excitement among Democrats for being free to oppose abortion. The abortion lobby is vicious, and applies tremendous pressure on Democrats to conform to one way of thinking on abortion.
During the debate on the Affordable Care Act, even those considered pro-choice were eager to support limits on abortion. This could have been a major turning point for the party. Two things happened. Republicans saw the danger of an inclusive, big-tent Democratic Party when the pro-life Democrats helped pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The abortion lobby saw this danger too. Neither liked to see the strength of the pro-life Democratic caucus.
Instead of embracing the pro-life Democrats for unifying behind this crowning achievement for Democrats, the party treated them with disdain. Many of the Stupak 18 were ostracized by party leaders and party activists. At the same time, Republicans saw this opportunity to knock the pro-life Democrats out of the purple seats by claiming the ACA was the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.
This combined effort resulted in 88 percent of the seats once held by Democrats who opposed taxpayer funding of abortion becoming solid red seats.
The Democratic national convention is this week, and it looks like the abortion language is absolutely terrible. The party simply doesn’t care about having a tent that includes pro-life Democrats?
It does seem that way. Many in the current leadership would rather be a minority party than include pro-life democrats and/or do not fully understand that pushing pro-life democrats away has caused us to lose numerous opportunities and majorities around the country.
I have been working on behalf of pro-life democrats since 1996, and this is the worst I have seen it and our party is at its smallest numbers.
Again, party leaders are blind to the fact that the party is weak when we exclude people. We cannot legitimately claim the mantle of the “big tent’ party of diversity and inclusion when we openly say that we don’t want pro-life voters. People are celebrating that our party is more progressive, but fail to recognize that people didn’t change their opinions — the party is just smaller because we do not support, nor want to include, the voices of moderate and pro-life democrats.
Lots of pro-lifers vote Republican as a matter of course. What would you want to say to such voters?
I understand the single issue voters, particularly when the Democratic Party platform now calls for taxpayer funding of abortion and celebrates abortion. The Democratic Party supports good policies to help women make the choice to carry her prenatal baby to term, including paid maternity leave.
And, we are not talking paid maternity leave for women in the corporate world – many are already provided this “luxury.” Women who work hourly jobs and/or who live paycheck to paycheck are the ones targeted for abortion. They simply cannot afford unpaid leave and are forced to choose abortion so they can care for their families.
Paying for their abortion with taxpayer funds will provide little comfort. But paid leave, a living wage and affordable healthcare will do more.
To the single issue voters, I would urge them to start getting active in the Democratic Party and help us take the party back from the pro-abortion forces who are trying to increase the abortion rate and their bottom line. Instead of paying for abortion with taxpayer funds, we should put that money toward continuing to fund the Pregnant Women Support Act (Pregnancy Assistance Fund) signed into law as part of the ACA.
Pro-life Democrats were integral to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, and many conservative pro-lifers think the ACA promoted abortion. Is this the case?
No. It was a masterful campaign tactic but not true. Prior to the ACA, five states restricted abortion coverage in insurance. A majority of health insurance companies and organizations, including the Republican National Committee, covered abortion.
The debate on the ACA brought awareness to the number of plans covering abortion and increased demand for, and awareness of, plans that did not cover abortion.
Today, twenty-five states prohibit abortion coverage up from five prior to the ACA. Twenty-one states allow coverage for abortion only in limited circumstances. Starting next year, every state will have to offer at least one plan that does not cover abortion.
Peer into your crystal ball. Where do you see the future of the pro-life movement?
I have been working with some amazing women in the pro-life movement who are actively building the infrastructure to support pregnant women and new parents. They are building pro-life health clinics, teaching churches to support single pregnant women instead of shunning them and advocating for women and our ability to persevere.
My crystal ball tells me the pro-life feminists are going to take over the movement with a message of love and support. The current movement has some of that, but there is still a lot of hate.
Just the other day, I was told I was going to hell because I am a Democrat and that the Democratic Party is evil and I am essentially evil too. All in a day’s work.