PHILADELPHIA—On Wednesday morning, a group of around 50 pro-life Democrats gathered in a small conference room in a DoubleTree hotel in Philadelphia’s Center City, in part to honor Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards with the Governor Casey Whole Life Leadership Award for his commitment to protecting the lives of the unborn.
“There is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life, because the two are not synonymous,” Edwards said in his acceptance speech at Democrats for Life of America’s DNC reception. “Now, I don’t think you can be pro-life without being anti-abortion, but being anti-abortion does not make you pro-life, because there are so many other issues that affect people, whether it’s access to healthcare, to housing, to nutrition, you name it.”
“By the way, if a young lady who’s expecting a baby knows that there’s gonna be help when that baby’s delivered and they’re not gonna be on their own, they’re much more likely to deliver that baby.”
Edwards managed to win a staunchly conservative state despite his support of Barack Obama, Medicaid expansion, increasing the minimum wage, gender pay equality, and on reducing the number of people incarcerated in the state. He feels that his progressive platform coupled with his pro-life record helped him win the governorship. He ended with a moving story about he and his wife deciding to carry their first pregnancy to term after learning their daughter would have spina bifida—she’s now 24, newly married, and in graduate school.
“I don’t like the labels ‘conservative’ and ‘liberal’ because I get asked all the time, ‘Are you a conservative democrat?’ ‘Are you a liberal?’” he continued. “I say, ‘Well, you ask me about an issue and I’ll tell you where I stand on that issue and you decide yourself whether I’m conservative or liberal, because on the pro-life issue, the Catholic Christian faith that informs my views and helps me to being pro-life also tells me that the Medicaid expansion was the right thing to do. One of those positions is typically referred to as being very conservative and the other one is very liberal but they come from the same place.”
The DFLA’s position works well with the Democratic platform in many ways, because it is so committed to providing healthcare, child care, and educational resources (as DFLA executive director Kristen Day said, “programs that give women good choices,”) and it’d be hard to find a progressive voter who would take issue with any of these stances. The controversial part comes when discussing the start and the end of life.
According to the organization, one in three Democrats (around 21 million people) are pro-life, and with their exclusively pro-choice platform, the party is alienating an important base that could help them win back lost legislative seats. Additionally, they believe the 2016 Democratic platform, which called for the repeal of all laws and policies that would impede abortion access, effectively marginalized that community. In a statement, Day wrote:
The future of the Democratic Party depends on its diversity, its ability to remain inclusive. The 2016 platform language on abortion torpedoes those goals. When Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia heard about the platform’s call to repeal the Hyde amendment he had a succinct response: “That’s crazy.” We couldn’t say it any better.
The most major distinction between pro-life and pro-choice Democrats (and the reason the two groups may have trouble co-existing) is their views on when life begins. Pro-life Democrats often believe that life begins at conception, and to end such a life would be murder.
“I think Democrats for Life is amazing because they do adhere to the consistent life ethic—respecting and protecting life from conception until natural death—and I respect that so much,” said Rosemary Geraghty, a junior at University of Alabama and intern at Life Matters Journal who was at the DNC with a few other interns who all consider themselves feminists. “Human rights don’t need to be something that’s a red issue or a blue issue... I think that it’s common sense legislation: Don’t allow people to kill people. Make that illegal.”
The other interns echoed her sentiments, and stressed the need for resources for young or struggling moms.
“We need to put resources in place so that women can be given a fair choice. It’s not right to put a woman in a situation where she feels like she has to risk her career, her education, or kill her child,” said Chrissy Healy, an intern and medical student at Case Western Reserve University. “That’s in no way feminism.”
“The core tenets of feminism are non-discrimination and equality,” said Maria Oswalt, a senior at University of Alabama, “From non-discrimination comes non-violence and so we think that should apply to all human beings from the moment they first exist.”
For the attendees I spoke with, the focus was less on repealing laws, and more about reducing the need for abortion services, which, in a vacuum, is not controversial. The unspoken counterargument would discuss women who don’t seek abortions for financial reasons, but for reasons more emotionally difficult, and unsolvable by after-school care.
“We want to end abortion because it’s a moral issue—life begins at conception—but there’s so much more to it,” said Lisa Stiller, a delegate from Oregon and DFLA board member who supports Bernie Sanders because of his championing of free childcare and education. “What we can do is work towards a world where abortion does not have to be a choice and that’s where I’m trying to find common ground. Let’s work towards a place where women don’t have to make that decision.”