Two pro-life Democrats, an increasingly rare bird, made an appearance at the March for Life on Friday and criticized their party’s leadership for what they see as the political misstep of turning a cold shoulder to pro-life voters who feel shut out by the party.
Representative Dan Lipinski, who gave a rousing speech defending unborn life, called the one-sided thinking a “big problem for the party.”
“I think the party really hurts itself tremendously by suggesting that it’s not open to people who are pro-life, pro-life voters,” the Illinois Democrat told National Review at the march.
“I also know that there are a lot of people who come up to me all the time and tell me that they are pro-life,” Lipinski added, noting that some are his own constituents. “They want to be a Democrat but they don’t feel that the party is accepting of them.”
“It’s terrible for the party,” he said. “These people feel like they have been pushed out of the party.”
Democratic leadership has struggled to get their story straight on whether pro-life candidates and voters are still welcome in the party. Democratic National Committee chairman Tom Perez said last year that it is “not negotiable” that “every Democrat, like every American, should support a woman’s right to make her own choices about her body and her health.” However, House speaker Nancy Pelosi later pushed back on this philosophy, saying “of course” the party has room for pro-life Democrats.
A Reuters/Ipsos poll found last year that 32 percent of Democratic voters believe abortion should be “generally illegal” or were unsure on the issue, a statistic Lipinski stressed.
“I think that going forward it’s tough, but hang in there,” he said in response to whether it was difficult to get party funding because of his pro-life views.
The veteran congressman, who is co-chairman of the House pro-life caucus, has represented his southwest Chicago district since 2005. The area leans socially conservative but has elected a Democrat to Congress since 1974 and was won by senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary.
Lipinski eked out an eighth term in November, quashing an unexpectedly difficult primary challenge from progressive candidate Marie Newman, who was backed by pro-abortion heavy-hitters NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List. The Democratic party even refused to endorse him in the primary.
“If it happens again another primary, I’m ready for that,” he said.
“The pro-life movement is all about helping especially the most vulnerable women and children,” he said. “There is so much that pro-life people do for women and children, caring for them. It is really something that we need to make sure people know more about.”
“Look, I’m a Democrat because I believe the government needs to help people who are in need in some way. And to me, protecting the unborn is part of that,” he explained. “It all fits together for me.”
Another pro-life Democratic lawmaker, Louisiana state House member Katrina Jackson, also fired up the crowd of freezing marchers on Friday.
She agreed the party must pivot to being more inclusive of pro-life voters.
“I think there are a lot more pro-life Democrats than nationally we get credit for,” she told National Review. “We’re just beginning to have a voice outside of the national party.”
“I’m in a 60 percent Democratic district and about 90 percent of all my Democrats in my district that I represent are pro-life,” Jackson said of her northern Louisiana district. “They don’t really talk about it, and so the general constituent doesn’t say, ‘Oh, I’m pro-life.’ They’re just Christian, and they love the Lord, and they don’t believe in abortion.”
“I really never saw party money,” Jackson, an attorney, said about the Democratic party’s willingness to fund a pro-life Democrat. “Not that I think party money is wrong, it’s just I’m from an area where we just raise our money naturally.”
In 2014, Jackson became a target of abortion giant Planned Parenthood when she sponsored a bill requiring Louisiana doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges to nearby hospitals.
A former director of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast-Louisiana, Melissa Flournoy, was forced to resign after expressing she wanted to to put someone in a ring to “kick [Jackson’s] ass.”
Of those who might feel angry at seeing a pro-life Democrat, Jackson said: “I respect their views, doesn’t mean we always agree, but I respect their views. But I’m not going to compromise my values for politics.”
“I’m answerable to God first,” she said. “I was honest when I ran that before I was Democrat, before I was black, before I was a female, I was a Christian.”
Republican senator Steve Daines, of Montana, also spoke at the March and celebrated lawmakers’ recent bipartisan work on pro-life legislation.
“It’s wonderful to see bipartisan support, recognizing that we need more of that,” Daines told reporters at the March. “I just have a great respect for my colleagues.”
Democratic senators Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted with Republicans on Thursday on a bill that would have permanently forbidden directing federal funding toward abortions, a condition that is renewed every year in spending bills but has not been written into law. Even with the Democratic support, the bill failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to move forward.
Daines was hopeful for the future of pro-life legislation, however, and said the Senate has gained pro-life senators in the last election, including some across the aisle.
“We’re not going to give up the fight,” Daines said. “And we’re going to keep fighting on the offense with judges as well as with policies.”