Following the nomination of Hillary Clinton to run for president, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said he was worried that the party’s “Big Tent” won’t be large enough to continue welcoming pro-life Democrats like himself.
“We must reach out to the many pro-life Democrats in our party and include these voters in our platform,” Edwards said when he was presented with the Governor Casey Whole Life Leadership Award by Democrats for Life of America during the last week of July.
Some on the pro-life side of the Democratic Party prefer the term “whole life” as can be seen in the name of the leadership award. That means that rather than focusing strictly on abortion, they are concerned with taking care of a person from conception to the grave.
But that is merely semantics when compared to the larger issue, according to a Democrats for Life of America press release.
“(Democrats) have been on the wrong path since they prevented Gov. Robert Casey from speaking at the 1992 national convention because he was a staunch pro-life leader who wasn’t afraid to buck his party in order to stand for his principles,” the DFLA statement proclaimed.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, put it even more bluntly.
“The future of the Democratic Party is at stake,” said Day, “and John Bel Edwards shows that Democrats can gain victories in red states like Louisiana, if the party is willing to reverse course, listen to the voters, and support pro-life candidates.”
The month before he received the award, Edwards signed Louisiana’s ban on the dismemberment abortion procedure, which is most commonly used in second-trimester abortions.
The month before that, Edwards signed a law tripling Louisiana’s abortion waiting period from one to three days.
He also signed legislation requiring physicians to be board-certified or certifiable in obstetrics and gynecology or in family medical practice before they could perform abortions in the state.
Edwards described himself as a “proud Democrat,” but also said that being pro-life in the Democratic Party was “a bigger challenge than it should be.”
“There is a difference between being anti-abortion and pro-life,” Edwards added. “It’s going to be increasingly difficult to navigate these waters if the party doesn’t moderate.”
Here’s why Edwards and Day are frustrated.
While Edwards accepted the Gov. Casey award inside one building in Philadelphia, Democratic National Convention delegates cheered and applauded in another as NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue told the audience how she and her husband decided to abort her first pregnancy because the time wasn’t right to start a family.
“I made the decision that was best for me,” she said. “Now years later, my husband and I are parents to two incredible children.”
DNC delegates approved a pro-choice platform that opposed the Hyde Amendment, which has prohibited direct taxpayer funding of most abortions since the late 1970s.
“While I’m troubled by the platform, I’ve never been one to honor that particular plank [on abortion] in our platform anyway, so I think we can do better and we’re going to do better,” Edwards told the Catholic News Service. “I think we’re going to have to.”
Along with presenting the Governor Casey Whole Life Leadership Award to Edwards, Democrats for Life of America released a study that showed what DFLA sees as the negative impact a radical pro-choice agenda has had on the party.
The “Open the Big Tent” study claimed one-third of Democrats are already pro-life, and most Americans in the middle support pro-life policies like the ban on federal funding for abortion.
“Nonetheless, the Democratic Party keeps rejecting its pro-life base in favor of extremist positions, further alienating Americans and risking the future of the country,” the study says.
The Big Tent study also showed that since 2008, when it abandoned the campaign strategy that allowed for supporting pro-life candidates, the Democratic Party has lost 912 state legislative seats and the control of 30 state legislative chambers, 69 U.S. House seats, 13 U.S. Senate seats, and 13 governorships.
Day pointed to Edwards as the example of a pro-life Democrat who can beat a Republican. She said Edwards won in Louisiana in part because he is pro-life.
She said, just as Edwards did, that Democrats can take victories from Republicans by embracing pro-life ideals and the voters who support that vision.
“The presidential race is tight, but the GOP is losing support,” Day said. “Now is the time for the Democratic Party to reach out and invite in a diversity of voters and not shut the door on a third of its supporters.”
Ironically, former Pennsylvania Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper told Roll Call, Republicans understand the power of pro-life Democrats better than Democrats, which is why the word “former” now precedes her name.
“The Republicans see it, which is why it was the pro-life Republicans who came after me” and funded her opponent, she said. “I just shake my head.”
As discouraged as Dahlkemper must be, Day told Catholic News Service she believes Gov. Edwards is listening to mainstream America and can lead Democrats back to the center of the political spectrum.
“I almost started to cry when he spoke,” said Day. “We’ve needed an outspoken leader like this.”