The Death of Pro-Life Democrats
Thanks to pro-life groups and backlash over health care reform, the Democratic pro-life vote in the House of Representatives is likely to halve on November 2, making abortion even more of a partisan issue.
Republicans fighting to take back the House of Representatives have focused on seats currently held by moderate, pro-life Democrats. They're getting help from pro-life organizations unhappy with these House members' votes for the health care legislation passed last spring. Conservative pro-life groups argue the bill allows federal funding of abortion, though President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting abortion funding.
"There certainly is a real prospect that the number of pro-life Democrats will decline," said John Green, a professor of political science at the University of Akron. "There's been a lot of complaint across the political spectrum that American politics is too polarized on issues like abortion. And yet the results of this election may be to polarize it even more in Congress because the pro-life voices are likely to be less common in the Democratic caucus and more common in the Republican caucus."
The Susan B. Anthony List and other pro-life groups have pulled endorsements from these Democrats and are campaigning for Republican challengers against incumbents such as Steven Driehaus (Ohio), and Kathy Dahlkemper (Penn.).* Along with retiring Democrats such as Bart Stupak (Mich.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.), and Charles Melancon (La.), these representatives' districts will likely go Republican on November 2.
The region likely to see the most significant change is the Ohio River Valley of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. With a high percentage of Catholic voters, these districts have tended to elect pro-life Democrats.
The Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL), a pro-life group with the goal of ending abortion in the U.S. and advocating for pro-life women in government, sponsored a multi-million dollar "Votes Have Consequences" bus tour targeting Democrats—some with pro-life voting records—who voted for health care reform.
"When you say this [abortion] is a critical issue—it's really the taking of a human life—you really believe that and you can't in any way make taxpayers complicit in it," said sbal president Marjorie Dannenfelser. "You have to believe that and act that way on both sides of the aisle."
Such a move leaves pro-life Democrats deserted by both the pro-life and pro-choice camps. naral considers these pro-life Democrats "anti-choice" because of their vote for the Stupak Amendment (which would have banned federally-funded abortion in the health care law) and their co-sponsorship of the "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."
"From a Republican perspective, this is a very good strategy because you don't want a strong pro-life voice in the Democratic Party; it takes it away as a campaign issue," said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America. "The pro-choice groups are the same way. I think the pro-choice groups and the pro-life Republicans are on the same page: 'We don't want these pro-life Democrats in the party.' "
One SBAL-funded advertisement was a billboard against Driehaus stating that he "voted FOR taxpayer-funded abortion." The ads created such a commotion that the Ohio Election Commission stepped in to rule them illegal. The group appealed the ruling, arguing that it restricts free speech—and the American Civil Liberties Union, a group that advocates for "reproductive freedom," filed a supporting brief. A ruling is expected today. Another targeted race is Dahlkemper's Pennsylvania seat. Dahlkemper considers herself pro-life and is "confident that the bill clearly bans the use of federal funds for elective abortions."