The election post-mortem for the Democratic party is ongoing, with some claiming the party has effectively abandoned large groups of Americans at their own peril — pro-lifers among them. But others are vehemently rejecting this notion.
Erin Matson is an abortion activist who has served on the board of directors for the National Organization for Women, former vice president of NOW Action, former editor-at-large of RH Reality Check (now Rewire), and founder of abortion advocacy group Reproaction. She noticed the calls for Democrats to be more accepting of pro-lifers, and to have more of a “big tent” approach moving forward. And she is not happy about it, insisting that the party’s pro-abortion extremism didn’t cost the party the election, and should be upheld.
A strong, proactive stance toward bodily autonomy embraced by the Democratic Party did not lose at the ballot box this presidential election. In fact, this progress is something to celebrate and continue. The party’s presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, embraced repealing the discriminatory Hyde Amendment that bans most abortion funding at home, a move that came only because of decades of bold activism led by reproductive justice advocates. She did the same for the Helms Amendment, which has effectively barred abortion funding abroad, and issued a strong, affirmative statement about abortion rights when finally asked a question about the topic at a presidential debate. What’s more, in 2016, the Democratic Party platform explicitly committed for the first time to repealing the Hyde Amendment.
There’s just one problem with that, though: most Americans don’t agree with this. Americans don’t want taxpayer funding of abortion, by an overwhelming margin. Repealing the Hyde Amendment might make Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry happy, but your average American voter doesn’t support it. This is something that multiple polls have found… but evidently, pro-abortion extremists like Matson don’t care.
“An overwhelming majority of the general public supports access to abortion under some or all circumstances, regardless of whether they are aware of or take action against an onslaught of attacks on abortion access in the states,” Matson wrote.
Is it really true to say that most Americans are “pro-choice,” though? At Paste Magazine, Stephen Markley — who identifies as pro-abortion — took the opposite approach as Matson, arguing that Democrats needed to stop alienating pro-lifers because it is a losing strategy. Why? Because the majority of Americans are not pro-abortion. “During the Bush years, pro-choice identification nudged upward, and during the Obama presidency, pro-life respondents had the edge,” Markley wrote. “Currently it stands at 47% to 46%, respectively. In the latest poll, 29% said it should be legal in all circumstances, 19% illegal in all circumstances, and a full 50% said legal only in some circumstances. You can see almost these same exact numbers if you scroll back to the year 1989.” Markley also pointed out that the number of young people who define themselves as “pro-choice” is decreasing; young Americans are more pro-life than generations before them.
Matson also doesn’t acknowledge any of this, or that, while some Americans do want abortion to be legal, the vast majority of those Americans also want heavy restrictions on abortion, supporting things like parental consent laws, late-term abortion bans, and bans on taxpayer-funded abortion. Around one-third of registered Democrats are pro-life. But rather than be accepting of these pro-lifers (and thus, more likely to win), Matson would rather not only snub these people and tell them that there is no room for them in the Democratic party, she wants to smear them and insult them.
Yes, there are a handful of anti-choice Democrats in positions of power, and they must be held accountable for their opposition to civil and human rights for people who are or who could become pregnant. First and foremost, we must remember that the numbers of anti-choice Democrats in power at the federal level are small, and they represent a dying breed of “blue-dog Democrats” increasingly less likely to be re-elected in our gerrymandered environment. In 2016, the Blue Dog Political Action Committee endorsed only 11 congressional candidates; four total won.
This doesn’t mean, however, fringe groups such as Democrats for Life of America aren’t still a threat as they advocate for a broad stance on abortion that would accommodate candidates and public officials who take stands in contradiction of the Democratic Party Platform.
“[T]his handful of anti-choice Democrats in elected office operate as pawns for right-wing priorities,” she continued, once again not acknowledging that a sizeable portion of her party also identify as pro-life. That’s the problem with her argument: “pro-life” is not a political affiliation. There are people of all political stripes who believe in protecting life, who are conservatives and liberals, who are religious and secular. Trying to paint all pro-lifers as backwards right-wing extremists isn’t a winning strategy, by any means.
“The future of the left conversation should be had at all levels within our movements—from voters, to volunteers, to leadership. We lost. We need to know why we lost, and the only way to do so is open and honest inquiry,” Matson said. “At this critical moment for our nation, the left must ask open questions and reexamine our assumptions—while also remaining true to our core values of dignity, equality, fairness, justice, and respect.”
Does Matson actually want to know why the Democratic Party lost? Does she actually want the party to win, or does she want to continue advancing an extremist abortion agenda? Because unfortunately, you can’t have both. Abortion likely wasn’t the sole factor in Hillary Clinton’s loss, but it also wasn’t just Clinton that lost on election day. Democrats suffered devastating losses on every political level, and it would be foolish to ignore that the Democratic Party’s official position on abortion is at odds with how the majority of Americans feel about it. About half of all Americans want abortion to be legal, yes, but only under extremely limited circumstances. Most Americans don’t want legal abortion on demand, at any time, for any reason, paid for with taxpayer dollars. These are the facts. Ignoring and alienating a majority of Americans will not help the Democratic Party win, and it is, quite frankly, ludicrous to argue otherwise.