Recent reports indicate that Ilyse Hogue — president of the radical abortion-rights group NARAL — is seriously considering a bid for the chairmanship of the Democratic National Committee. If she throws her hat in the ring, and especially if she is selected, it’ll be the latest evidence that abortion-on-demand will be a central plank of the Democratic party moving forward. That would be a huge mistake.
The fact that Hogue is mulling such a bid, and the fact that she’s being taken seriously by party elites, reveals an unhealthy attachment to abortion as the sacrament of the left. Aside from the evident moral problem of supporting abortion, the Democratic party made a tactical error by embracing a radically progressive attitude toward abortion in the 1970s, and this election cycle showed even more clearly that party leaders haven’t yet realized the mistake.
Most available evidence suggests that the average American doesn’t line up with Hillary Clinton on abortion, let alone someone as radical as Hogue. Abortion might not be the top concern for many voters, but the Democratic disconnect on this issue indicates a larger problem with the party’s continued radicalization on social and cultural issues. Trump’s win — along with the resounding defeat of Democrats up and down the ticket, at both the federal and state level — highlights the detachment of the Left from the views of normal Americans, and that disconnect is perhaps most evident in the party’s largely unpopular stances on “reproductive rights.”
While Democrats’ line on abortion has indeed become more extreme over time, their detachment from the American culture on abortion didn’t begin this year. Around the time of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, the Democratic party was largely split on the issue of abortion. Prominent party leaders came down on both sides of the issue, with two-time presidential candidate George McGovern and senator Ted Kennedy championing a woman’s “right to choose,” while faithful Catholics such as Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey, Sr., and ambassador Sargent Shriver remained pro-life. Looking at the party today, it’s evident which side won out.
Though Democrats have only recently begun to transition from their mantra of “safe, legal, and rare” to “federally funded and ubiquitous,” their embrace of abortion has been evident for decades, and supporting abortion has become an increasingly important litmus test of Democratic politicians. In both 1992 and 1996, Casey was prevented from delivering a pro-life speech at the Democratic National Convention, and Shriver was the last pro-life Democrat to make it onto the national Democratic ticket when he ran with McGovern in 1972. And in the decades since Roe, nearly all Democrats, including many of those who were once pro-life, “evolved” to support abortion, often with almost no restrictions. Congressman Tim Ryan, an Ohio Democrat challenging Nancy Pelosi for the position of House minority leader, is the latest example, as he switched last year from being mostly pro-life to supporting abortion. And just last month, the Democratic presidential nominee openly advocated partial-birth abortion on the debate stage, disguising the truth of the issue with false rhetoric about women’s health.
But this support for unlimited abortion is clearly at odds with the American public. A poll released last week by the polling company inc./WomanTrend reveals that nearly two-thirds of Americans support legislation restricting abortion to before the 20th week of pregnancy, including almost 80 percent of Millennials and nearly equal proportions of men and women at around 64 percent. Meanwhile, a Knights of Columbus-Marist poll from this summer found that 78 percent of Americans want significant restrictions on abortion, limiting it to cases of rape, incest, or saving the mother’s life, or only in the first trimester.
Americans also tend to deviate from the Democratic party platform’s goal of abolishing the Hyde Amendment, which was put in place after Roe to prevent taxpayer money from funding abortion. The same K of C-Marist poll showed that 62 percent of Americans oppose using public funds for abortion, about consistent with previous studies on this topic. A recent Politico-Harvard poll speaks to this split: While only 36 percent of likely voters want to overturn the amendment, 57 percent of self-described Clinton voters want to overturn it. As average Americans have remained supportive of limited abortion rights, leftwing activists have compelled the party and its leaders to support radical abortion-on-demand.
As a purely strategic matter, Democrats would profit from taking a less severe stance on this issue. For example, many Catholics who were alienated from the Democratic party over abortion politics would probably consider returning to their old party if it became even slightly more pro-life by renouncing its dedication to late-term abortion and federal funding. And though such a shift would disappoint progressive abortion supporters, it’s unlikely that they’d leave the Democratic party over it, mainly because there’s nowhere more leftwing for them to go.
As long as abortion radicals such as Hogue and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards are given a loud voice within the party, and as long as Democratic politicians continue to chase campaign funding from these groups by continuing to “evolve” on abortion, Democrats will continue to foster an avoidable disjunction between themselves and the American people.