Dan Lipinski is the last of a dying breed. The Illinois congressman is one of only three pro-life Democrats left in the House. And within the pro-life Democratic caucus (if we may call a trio a “caucus”), Lipinski is the only true liberal.
Lipinski has a record of being unwilling to compromise his pro-life principles in order to advance a liberal economic agenda. He voted for Obamacare in 2009 when it included pro-life protections but against final passage in 2010 because it didn’t. (Lipinski’s two pro-life Democratic House colleagues, Henry Cuellar of Texas and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, voted against Obamacare both times and have conservative records on other issues as well, including “A” ratings from the NRA.) The fact that Lipinski has voted with his party nearly 90 percent of the time, had a 7 percent rating from the NRA, and backed Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton in 2016 hasn’t been enough to spare him from a concerted left-wing effort to purge him from the Democratic party.
The eight-term congressman faced his first serious assault from the left in a 2018 primary, when challenger Marie Newman and the energized progressive base came within two percentage points of defeating him. Newman is running again to finish the job in 2020. Taking out Lipinski makes perfect sense to pro-abortion activists: Democrats have no fear of losing a general election in Lipinski’s district, which Hillary Clinton carried by 15 points in 2016 and Barack Obama carried by 13 points in 2012. Yet the anti-Lipinski effort does carry risks for the Democratic party. No single seat in the House is worth very much in terms of political power. The odds are very low that a crucial piece of legislation will advance by a single vote in the House. Purging Lipinski is more about sending a message than it is about gaining one more vote.
The message that the anti-Lipinski campaign is sending is that dissent will not be tolerated and pro-lifers and even those with moderate views on abortion are unwelcome in the Democratic party. Newman’s last campaign even carried a whiff of anti-Catholicism to it. She attacked Lipinski, a practicing Catholic, for believing contraception is morally wrong. Newman falsely suggested Lipinski wanted to ban contraception, when he has in fact voted for federal funding for it but also supports religious-liberty protections.
It says something about the leftward lurch of the Democratic party that it has fallen to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a liberal Democrat from San Francisco, to explain to her colleagues the political peril of purging pro-lifers from the party. “You know what? That’s why Donald Trump is president of the United States — the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage-equality, anti-choice. That’s how he got to be president,” Pelosi told the Washington Post in 2017. “Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively, by that.”
“I grew up Nancy D’Alesandro, in Baltimore, Maryland; in Little Italy; in a very devout Catholic family; fiercely patriotic; proud of our town and heritage, and staunchly Democratic,” Pelosi told the Post. “Most of those people — my family, extended family — are not pro-choice. You think I’m kicking them out of the Democratic party?”
Pelosi may not want to kick them out of the Democratic party for nakedly partisan reasons. All pro-lifers should hope on principle that Lipinski prevails against the campaign to purge the last Democrats who are willing to defend the right to life.