home Commentary, North America, Politics, Women Why do pro-life Democrats still exist?

Why do pro-life Democrats still exist?

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a 20 week abortion ban last week, and we decided to take a look back in our archives for those who think the battle over bodily autonomy is new. Here’s Sady Doyle from 2011, talking about how the scourge of pro-life Democrats was a problem even during the Obama era. 

H.R. 3 has been protested almost since the day it was introduced. The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which does pretty much what it says on the tin — imposes a series of draconian restrictions on abortion funding — made waves at first because of its “forcible rape” clause, which aimed to restrict the definition of “rape” as it applied to rape and incest exemptions, and which garnered a significant amount of coverage and protest this February. (The clause was removed — but the bill still stands to deprive statutory rape victims of the right to choose.) Of course, even with that infamous clause removed, H.R. 3 aims to deprive people of Medicaid funding for abortions, meaning that it aims to deprive poor women of abortions, meaning that it targets specifically the most vulnerable people within the population. And good news for those of us in the middle: If you are lucky enough to have insurance, H.R. 3 will also prohibit your insurance company from covering your abortion. So, hurrah! All will be delightfully well-oppressed.

The most upsetting thing about H.R. 3, however, is the fact that it passed the House on May 4. And how it passed: On a 251-to-175 vote. Every single Republican present voted for it. And so did 16 Democrats.

That first bit isn’t a surprise. The Republican party is more or less open about the fact that they plan to destroy the right to abortion. They have not wavered in this purpose, despite the fact that we all know that abortions save lives, that unplanned pregnancies can ruin lives, and that being unable to access safe abortion quite literally kills people, either by making them carry risky pregnancies to term or by exposing them to unsafe practitioners like Kermit Gosnell, currently up on eight counts of murder, who preyed specifically on low-income women unable to access abortion by other means — the very people targeted by H.R. 3. Seven of those murder counts are for live babies Gosnell allegedly delivered, then killed. One is for a pregnant woman he allegedly killed with an overdose of Demerol. As for the rest:

“At least one other mother died following an abortion in which Gosnell punctured her uterus and then sent her home. He left an arm and a leg of a partially aborted fetus in the womb of another woman, and then told her he did not need to see her when she became sick days later, having developed a temperature of 106 degrees. He perforated bowels, cervixes, and uteruses. He left women sterile,” according to one account.

This is the future that anti-abortion politicians are pushing for. There is no way around it. Making abortion illegal, or restricting access to it, does not stop the need for it, and it does not stop abortion from happening. Women and trans men will have safe, clean, quick abortions in doctors’ offices, or they will die trying to get them. Few things are more reliable than the desperation of people who are trying not to have children that they can’t care for or can’t afford. Every time we restrict abortion, every time we place a ban on one type or another — Gosnell was able to exist because late-term abortions, specifically, were inaccessible — we move a step closer to this ultimate goal. The overturn of Roe v. Wade. The Gosnell world.

Which is why those pro-life Democrats stick out. In a House that was already going to pass the measure, against a united and determined Republican anti-choice strategy, they added sixteen unnecessary voices of support. The question of “why” — why such a thing as a “pro-life Democrat” even exists — gets more terrifying the more closely you consider it.

We should be clear, here: H.R. 3 has very little chance of passing the Senate. There have been statements that Obama will be urged to veto it, if necessary. And, if the conversations I’ve been having are any evidence, there are people willing to defend those sixteen Democrats who voted to pass it through the house. They know that the bill will probably not become law; their votes are meaningless. They need to be re-elected; it’s their careers, their futures on the line. We need Democratic politicians, even if they do screw up on issues like this from time to time: We need a Democratic majority. We need to look past this issue, toward the greater good. Right? I mean, there are worse things that could happen. The Republicans could be in control. Then, we’d really be in trouble.

It’s a convincing argument. Unless you remember the woman with a belly full of spilled shit, the hemorrhaging woman with a torn uterus, the sixteen-year-old forcibly stripped, bound to a table, and punched by her “doctor,” as the painkillers set in, praying she can stay awake, knowing that she won’t. Unless you think there are principles in this world that one does not, under any circumstances, betray. Unless you think that protecting the lives of those women is one such principle. If none of that particularly matters to you, then yes: The “greater good” could reasonably be comprised of a Democratic party that does not universally defend the legal right to abortion.

It is not just about re-election, about pleasing an anti-choice constituency. Many “pro-life” Democrats are just as anti-abortion as any Republican. Former Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, of Stupak-Pitts, admitted that he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, given the chance.

“Unless we elect pro-life Democrats we’re not going to pass any pro-life legislation. We’re a two-party system and we need support from both parties,” according to Carol Crossed, former President of Democrats for Life.

The agenda is fairly clear: enabling anti-abortion politicians to infiltrate and undermine the historically pro-choice Democratic party. “Passing pro-life legislation.” That is the end game. And this is not something we can, under any circumstances, support.

But then, the other part of Crossed’s quote, the other people she counted as allies in the “pro-life” fight: “Democrats who are very concerned their party is not winning. These are the party analysts, strategists who see this as a sort of strategy.”

So, yes: Some politicians are just playing the game. They want to win. And if “winning” means backing anti-choice policies: Well, winning is winning. And H.R. 3 probably won’t become law, so they’re not even all that important, those sixteen Democratic votes. Right?

Well. That depends. Which is more abhorrent to you: the person who genuinely wants to do harm, who does not understand his actions to be wrong? Or the person who knows he is doing wrong, and does it anyway, for the sake of personal gain?

Politics is politics, and it is a dirty game. That much is true. But for too long, Democrats have been willing to accept the idea that protecting the lives, bodies, and futures of their constituents is an “idealistic” move. As opposed to, you know, their job. Faced with a full-on assault on the bodily integrity of roughly half the country, they’ve been able to pretend that abortion is something which is not important enough to deserve a united front of defense. Sure: It might be harder to get a Democratic majority if we demanded that the people we elected actually, you know, voted like Democrats. But this issue is not one on which we can negotiate. And this fight is not one that we can afford to lose.

Photo credit: Ondřej Vaněček/Creative Commons