The Corner


Bernie Sanders Reverses Course on Pro-Life Democrats

Senator Bernie Sanders during a campaign event in Manchester, N.H., February 4, 2020. (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

Over the weekend, during an MSNBC town hall on abortion rights, Bernie Sanders offered his troubling two cents on a question that has arisen a few times during the Democratic presidential primary. “Is there such a thing as a pro-life Democrat in your vision of the party?” asked the host, Stephanie Ruhle.

“I think being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” Sanders replied. “By this time in history . . . when we talk about what a Democrat is, I think being pro-choice is an essential part of that,” he added.

This response is a far cry from the Bernie Sanders of 2017, who campaigned on behalf of Heath Mello, an Omaha, Neb., mayoral candidate who had been dubbed “anti-abortion” for supporting a bill that would require doctors to inform women that they have the right to an ultrasound prior to an abortion. (The bill did not, as some outlets incorrectly reported, require women to undergo an ultrasound.)

A piece in Salon at the time insisted that Sanders’s endorsement of Mello proved that he believes “reproductive rights are negotiable.” “Being pro-choice is not an optional part of being a progressive. Full stop,” the author wrote. “One hundred percent pro-choice is the only pro-choice position.”

Though his support for Mello was hardly an endorsement of the pro-life worldview, it seems that Bernie Sanders has been converted to his critics’ way of thinking.

His newfound intolerance notwithstanding, Sanders perhaps deserves a bit of credit for being so forthcoming. When faced with a similar question at a Fox News town hall a few weeks back, Pete Buttigieg couldn’t bring himself to offer a straight answer.

“Do you want the support of . . . pro-life Democratic voters?” Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, asked Buttigieg. “There are about 21 million of us. And if so, would you support more-moderate platform language in the Democratic party to ensure that the party of diversity, of inclusion really does include everybody?”

Buttigieg responded only with equivocations such as this: “The best I can offer is that if we can’t agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line. And in my view, it’s the woman who’s faced with that decision in her own life.”

There are several reasons why this framing of the abortion debate is the wrong one, chief among them the fact that pro-lifers believe — correctly, if we are to admit readily available facts of human biology — that abortion ends the life of a distinct human being, not that women shouldn’t be afforded personal autonomy. But his rhetorical games aside, it is noteworthy that Buttigieg wouldn’t directly respond to Day’s rather plaintive question.

“Is there room for us?” pro-life Democrats ask their presidential contenders.

Again and again, they’re answered in the negative. At least Sanders has the courtesy to tell them not to waste their time.


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