More than 100 Democratic politicians have sent a letter to the party’s Platform Committee, calling for changes in the platform to accept pro-life Democrats and assure them that their view will be respected.
“In the U.S., pro-life Democrats have been a critical part of the coalition to expand voting rights, improve health care, and pass criminal justice reform,” the letter said. “These accomplishments would not have been possible if the Democratic Party had in place a litmus test on abortion.”
The letter voiced concern that the party’s leaders and official platform have moved to an extreme position on abortion in the last two decades, sending a message to Democrats that they do not belong in the party unless they oppose all limits on abortion.
This view fails to acknowledge that one in three Democrats are pro-life, the letter stressed, adding that as a party which prides itself on inclusivity and diversity, the Democrats must welcome and respect it’s 21 million pro-life members.
Dated August 14, the letter was signed by 105 elected Democratic politicians, both current and retired. Signatories include local officials and state legislators, as well as nine members of Congress and three governors.
Among the signatories were Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, who signed a “heartbeat bill” into law earlier in 2019, and U.S. Senator Katrina Jackson, who authored the Louisiana law on abortion clinic admitting privileges that the Supreme Court struck down earlier this year.
Another signatory was U.S. Senator Mike Gabbard of Hawaii, father of U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, whose support for limiting abortion in the third trimester put her in stark contrast with most of the other candidates vying for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
According to Democrats for Life of America, dozens of additional politicians said they quietly supported the letter but feared the repercussions of signing it.
The letter’s signers said they worried about a type of pro-abortion litmus test that has been created within the Democratic Party.
They suggested that pro-abortion language within the party’s platform is radical and out-of-touch with the views of Americans.
While prominent party leaders have endorsed legal abortion on-demand at any time in a pregnancy, polls indicate that 79% of Americans oppose this view, they said.
They noted that the 2016 Democratic Platform endorses taxpayer funding for abortion, both in the U.S. and in developing nations – ideas that the majority of Americans reject.
The signers warned that the rigid pro-abortion views of the party’s leaders are driving voters away.
“In 389 out of 435 Congressional districts, a majority of voters support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks,” they said. “When Democratic leaders support late-term abortion, they push many voters into the arms of the Republican Party. Many people holding pro-life views are single-issue voters.”
The letter called on the party to reintroduce language into the platform recognizing a diversity of views on abortion and pledging that the consciences of all party members will be respected.
In the year 2000, the Democratic platform included such language in regards to abortion, saying, “We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.” As late as 2004, the platform called for abortion to be “safe, legal and rare.”
By 2016, however, the conscience language had been dropped from the platform and the word “rare” was no longer used alongside repeated calls to make abortion “safe and legal.”
Pro-life advocates both within and outside of the Democratic Party have objected to these changes, arguing that the party has become increasingly extreme on the issue.
Joe Biden’s presumptive nomination as the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his selection of Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate, have prompted further concerns.
Last year, Biden shifted his position on the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits the use of Medicaid funds for most abortions. After voting for the original amendment in 1976 and supporting it for decades, Biden announced last summer that he opposed the Hyde Amendment. His change in position came amid criticism from other Democratic candidates, particularly Harris.
Harris has been prominent in pushing to limit the operations of pro-life groups.
As California attorney general, she drew criticism from the state Catholic conference by sponsoring a bill compelling pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise “free or low-cost” abortions to their clients. That law was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2018.
While seeking the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Harris proposed a plan that would bar some states from changing their abortion laws without federal approval.
As a senator, she has also co-sponsored legislation to bar any government from imposing a wide variety of limitations on abortion.