Pro-life Democrats have message for party: 'Bring us into your big tent'

By Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans

when the official party platform advocates for removing current legislative
restrictions on obtaining abortions, pro-life Democrats came to Philadelphia
with a counter message: You can’t win big without us.

Democratic candidate Hillary
Clinton has called for repealing the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal
funding for most abortions and continues to be included in many federal
appropriations bills for abortions. Her stance has been endorsed in the party
platform, which also calls for eliminating the Helms Amendment, which prohibits
U.S. foreign aid from being used to fund abortion-related activities.

But Kristen Day, executive director
of Democrats for Life of America, notes that since 2008, when President Barack
Obama launched his first term, the party has lost 11 governorships, 30 state
chambers, 69 house seats, 13 seats in the U.S. Senate and 912 seats in state

While the pro-life Democrats
agree with 99 percent of their party’s views on issues like paid maternity
leave and a living wage, Day said the Democrats have become a party of the Northeast
and the West.

“We’ve got to open up the big
tent,” she said in an interview with Catholic News Service. “Voters want to
come back to the Democratic Party, but the party platform and the extreme
positions we have been taking prevent them from doing so.”

Day has been buoyed by a recent
Dallas gathering of approximately 500 women who identify as pro-life feminists.
“We think we are doing this alone but we have this whole network of women out
there,” she said. “A lot of them (are) doing this work on the ground to provide
the support we are talking about. They know what women want and what we women
need. We’re the fourth wave of feminism, and we are pro-life.”

As the Democratic National
Convention played out at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, she said she had
some revealing, encouraging conversations while sitting at the Democrats for
Life table in a bustling hallway at the city’s convention center.

“So many of those who think they
are pro-choice are actually pro-life,” she told CNS July 27.

Christian Matuzzo, a Temple
University student who describes himself as a “dedicated pro-life Democrat from
Philadelphia,” said he had some positive and some “tougher” conversations at
the convention. “I enjoy the dialogue. It’s been great to promote the message
that we do exist in great numbers, and that we are not being represented by the

The stumbling block for many, he
said, is that many equate the pro-life cause with a lack of compassion and
concern for helping women facing unplanned pregnancies.

“I vehemently disagree with that,”
Matuzzo said. “I want to provide for women as much as they do, but I don’t feel
that you need to abort an unborn child to do so.”

At a reception honoring Louisiana
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Catholic, who is the only Democratic governor in the South, for his
support of the pro-life cause, Day underlined that idea from the podium: “We
choose the mother. We choose the child. We choose both.”

Matt Tuman, an organization
volunteer who has helped update the Democrats for Life website and aided with
research projects, is hopeful that the supporters of keeping abortion legal and
the pro-life advocates in his party can find common ground and reduce the
number of abortions by advocating for paid maternity leave, a 20-week ban on
abortions and Medicaid expansion to help the economically disadvantaged.

He agrees with Day that the
party’s hardening stance on abortion has contributed to its loss of electoral

“When we don’t have pro-life
Democrats in the House, we can’t hold the House” he said. “There are a lot of
pro-life areas out there in the deep South, where pro-life Democrats have a
better opportunity to win (those seats.)”

Day and honoree Edwards, who
said that his Catholic Christian faith informs his views, both argued that
pro-life beliefs aren’t limited to abortion.

“There is a difference between
being anti-abortion and pro-life,” said Edwards in accepting the Governor Casey
Whole Life Leadership Award. Rejecting the label of “liberal” or “conservative,”
Edwards suggested that people listen to what he has to say, and make up their
own minds.

He noted that with the party’s embrace
of such an outspoken supporter of legal abortion like Emily’s List
president Stephanie Schriock — who addressed the convention July 27 — the
prospects for pro-life Democrats could dim. Schriock’s organization focuses on
electing “pro-choice” Democratic women to office.

“It’s going to be increasingly
difficult to navigate these waters if the party doesn’t moderate” Edwards said.

“I almost started to cry when he
spoke,” said Day. “We’ve needed an outspoken leader like this.’

She characterizes Louisiana as
her new favorite state “ground zero” in progress made in reclaiming ground lost
to supporters of legal abortion.

Louisiana state Rep. Katrina
Jackson, who introduced Edwards as a friend and colleague, said that while many
of her colleagues acknowledge that a fetus is a human being, they emphasize what
will happen to children after they are born.

“The majority of those I meet
aren’t as concerned about promoting abortion as they are concerned about how
the child will live out its life. But everything is connected,” Jackson said.

While the role of faith in
shaping her decisions is “overarching,” she said, she has found that other
Democrats have many different reasons for being pro-life.

Many of those at the meeting
where Edwards was honored represented younger voters, including a Life Matters
group from Pittsburgh. “According to statistics, ours is the most pro-life
generation,” said Aimee Miller, a young adult with that group, “but
also the most secular generation.”

In conversations they had with
attendees at the convention, her group’s members found most people were
genuinely interested and respectful, she told, the news website
of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.

As the DNC neared its close July
28, Day reflected on what she had gleaned from days of interacting with
delegates and visitors.

“We’re right. Our position is
right, and it’s given me so much encouragement,” she said. “The platform was
discouraging and I felt the party went too far, but being here, and finding
that more people agree with me than not has given me more encouragement to keep
fighting the fight. People are cheering for us and saying, keep it up.

“We’re bringing the Democratic
Party back to its roots to protect all living beings.”

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Lou Baldwin contributed to this

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