WASHINGTON, D.C. – Debate continues over the Democratic Party’s acceptance of pro-life members, voters and politicians, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made comments signaling that she is open to them.
The San Francisco Democrat cited her own childhood in a “very Catholic family” in an Italian-American sector of Baltimore.
“Most of those people – my family, extended family – are not pro-choice. You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic Party?” she told the Washington Post May 2.
She said that the Democrats were united by “our values about working families,” suggesting that Democrats’ perceived rigidity on issues like gay marriage and abortion helped elect Republican Donald Trump as president. She cited the fact that the passage of the 2010 health care law was possible only after securing assurances it would not fund abortion.
About three in ten Democrats think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, the Pew Research Center has said.
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America criticized Rep. Pelosi, telling the Washington Post “encouraging and supporting anti-choice candidates leads to bad policy outcomes that violate women’s rights and endanger our economic security.”
Hogue praised the 2016 Democratic Party platform, saying “it didn’t just seek to protect abortion access – it sought to expand it.” She said the party “can’t back down” if it wants to regain power.
Support for pro-life Democrats became a subject of debate within the party in mid-April, when former Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez publicly supported the Democratic candidate for mayor of Omaha, NE, Heath Mello.
Pro-abortion rights activists criticized the endorsements, noting Mello’s support for abortion restrictions in the Nebraska legislature and his opposition to some taxpayer funding of abortion.
The abortion rights advocacy group NARAL harshly criticized Perez and Sanders, calling their support for Mello “politically stupid.”
Amid the controversy, Mello said that as a Catholic his faith “guides my personal views” but “as mayor I would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.”
In response to the political debate, Perez said there was no place for pro-life advocates in the party.
“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” he said, adding “this is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.”
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, told CNA in late April that Perez’s move was “stunning to see.”
“Pro-life Democrats are deeply concerned about this extreme position that the Democratic Party has taken and this non-negotiable position,” she said.
In her recent interview, Pelosi told the Washington Post she thought abortion is “kind of fading as an issue.”
At the same time, she pointed to U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA), who ran as a pro-life Democrat. “Bob Casey – you know Bob Casey – would you like him not to be in our party?” she said.
While Casey has described himself as pro-life, he has also opposed an end to funding abortion provider Planned Parenthood through federal contraception programs.
His father, Bob Casey, Sr., was a governor of Pennsylvania who was denied a speaking spot at the 1992 Democratic National Convention when he sought to present a report critical of the party’s platform on abortion that declared “reproductive choice” to be a fundamental right.
Ahead of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, then-Speaker of the House Pelosi attempted to justify her position in favor of abortion on Catholic grounds. Her attempt was rebuked by then-Archbishop of Denver Charles J. Chaput.