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Can a Democrat Be Pro-Life Today?

It’s no secret that the debate over abortion has ratcheted up to a higher level than anyone has ever imagined. Each side has drawn its lines, and both sides of the debate seem to be retreating to the extremes, finding no common ground.

We shouldn’t make generalities or paint with broad strokes, but the way the debate has gone recently, it looks like pro-lifers camp out on the Republican side of the aisle, while advocates of abortion reside in the Democratic party.

But can a Democrat legislator be pro-life and fit in with the party in 2019? To get that answer, we may not need to look any further than the case of Dan Lipinski, the Representative for Illinois’ 3rd congressional district.

Lipinski is a more conservative Democrat in a district that leans toward the GOP, and he’s pro-life. He’s also in a primary fight against Marie Newman, whom he defeated in the 2018 primary season.

While Lipinski is pro-life, Newman hews to the Democratic party line on abortion, and she’s already received the endorsement of groups like NARAL, Planned Parenthood , and EMILY’s List. In today’s Democratic party, Lipinski is a rare bird and needs all the help he can get in the primary.

His fellow member of the Illinois congressional delegation Rep. Cheri Bustos, chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and has a reputation for supporting and defending incumbents. But Bustos has backed out of a fundraiser for the congressman over – you guessed it – abortion.

In a statement sent out on Twitter, Bustos said that she had agreed to attend a fundraiser for Lipinski several months ago, “but I’ve determined that I must cancel my participation in this event.”

“I’m proud to have a 100 percent pro-choice voting record and I’m deeply alarmed by the rapidly escalating attacks on women’s access to reproductive care in several states,” Bustos said.

For his part, Lipinski has handled the situation fairly diplomatically, saying in a statement that “it became clear that her attendance at a fundraiser for me has become a distraction from her work.”

Bustos has said that she will continue to allow DCCC dollars to go to Lipinski’s campaign.

“This does not change how I will work as DCCC Chair to protect our big tent Democratic caucus,” she said. “Even though we may not agree with each other 100 percent of the time, it’s a fact that every dollar spent trying to defeat one of our Democratic incumbents is a dollar that we cannot spend defeating Republicans.”

But let’s look at the bigger picture here. Bustos is personally distancing herself from her fellow Illinois Democrat because he doesn’t fall in line with the notion that we should allow abortions up to (and maybe even after) a baby is born.

As the abortion debate heats up more and more, pro-life Democrats like Lipinski may become persona non grata within the party. After all, don’t forget that in 2017, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said:

“Every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health,” Perez said in a statement. “That is not negotiable and should not change city by city or state by state.” 

We don’t hear the same kind of calls for monolithic policy support on issues like, say, the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. Sure, Democrats have certain standard policy positions, but even then there are variations from one Democrat to the next and little demand for lockstep unity. Abortion, however, is a different matter altogether.

Increasingly, we’re seeing demand for Democrats to go as far left as possible on abortion issues. As a result, members of the group Democrats for Life are aware of how unusual it is to be a pro-life Democrat:

“I see it as Jesus and his disciples stood alone,” said Christian Matozzo, the 24-year-old coordinator of the Pennsylvania chapter of Democrats for Life. “If you’re a pro-life Democrat, it doesn’t matter if there are five or 500 or 5,000—you know you’re standing alone.”

To circle back to my original question, can a Democrat be pro-life today? Sure, they can, but I can’t help but believe that we’re beginning to see a trend of pushing pro-lifers out of the party. That tactic may end up alienating voters one day, which serves them right as far as issues of life go.

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