The End of Anti-Abortion Democrats as a Political Force?

| by Jill Stanek

Also read my previous post, "Pro-life groups turn on pro-life Democrats."

Spot-on piece by W. James Antle III in Politico today. Antle's point is that the Democrat Party's attempt to woo conservatives to run for Congress has backfired - on Democrats. I can't see pro-life groups trusting any unproven pro-life Democrats for a long, long time, if ever. This means pro-life candidates Democrats try to run in conservative districts won't win next go-around....

After being at the center of one of the nation's most polarizing political debates in more than a year, it was not so surprising that Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) announced his retirement.

But Stupak isn't just another Democrat declining to run for reelection this fall. Circumstances leading to his departure could signal the end of the anti-abortion Democrat as a potent political force...

There's a long list of prominent Democrats who switched from anti-abortion to abortion rights supporters as the 2 major parties sorted on abortion: Sen. Ted Kennedy, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, former VP Al Gore, former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, Sen. Dick Durbin and many others.

What is different here is the split between anti-abortion activists and Democrats who still consider themselves active opponents of legal abortion.

Even more remarkably, this split came when the Democratic Party is trying to be more open to diverse viewpoints on the abortion issue. After the 2004 presidential election, many leading Dems - including the nominee, Sen. John Kerry - concluded that a one-sided approach to abortion was hurting the party at the ballot box.

During the next 2 election cycles, Democrats recruited anti-abortion candidates to run in culturally conservative places. They chose a self-described anti-abortion lawmaker, NV Sen. Harry Reid, to lead the Democratic Caucus in the Senate.

But Reid became emblematic of many new anti-abortion Democrats: He retained the label while voting against anti-abortion groups on most issues.

Self-described anti-abortion Democrats began breaking with other abortion foes by voting for subsidies for Planned Parenthood, a leading abortion provider. Others backed taxpayer funding of embryonic stem cell research.

Still more supported the Obama administration's decision to rescind the Mexico City policy, a Republican ban on federal funds to international family planning groups that advocate legal abortion.

One such Democrat was PA Sen. Bob Casey, favorite son of the most famous anti-abortion Democratic family in the country.

OH Rep. Tim Ryan got himself kicked out of Democrats for Life of America, in part for his vote in favor of publicly funded abortions in the District of Columbia. Now, numerous anti-abortion Democrats have earned the enmity of anti-abortion leaders on health care reform - including every anti-abortion Democrat in the Senate.

The Democratic leadership, including Obama's team, had been willing to negotiate with anti-abortion Democrats almost up until the end. Many of these Dems wanted to build common ground within their party, rather than use their newfound leverage.

When forced to choose between their opposition to abortion and their support for the health care reform bill's other provisions, the Stupak Democrats sided with their party over the bipartisan, anti-abortion movement. Now their version of health care reform is law.

But this country's abortion debate may be more divided along partisan lines than ever before.