The Uncertain Future of Pro-Life Democrats

Some pro-life Democrats insisted that the only way their party would bring a “blue wave” in the midterms was if it wooed disenchanted Republican voters—including evangelicals—with candidates who took more moderate positions on abortion.

If 2018 was a test of this theory, as reported by Politico, the results are too few and too mixed to assess whether they were right. Barely any pro-life Democratic candidates emerged in this year’s elections; and in almost every case, they struggled.

So the question remains over the future of pro-lifers in the typically pro-choice party. Will Democrats strategically expand to become a “big tent” on the issue of abortion, or will they double down on a commitment to abortion rights?

The issue is particularly apt for evangelicals, who have long considered abortion a political priority. Recent analysis of the 2016 presidential electionindicated that a politician’s stance on abortion matters more than party for Americans with evangelical beliefs; three-quarters of pro-life evangelicals said they’d be willing to “vote for a candidate who was truly pro-life, regardless of political party.”

While Republicans easily offer voters a more consistent pro-life position and lobby to tighten restrictions on abortion access, Democrats who fall outside the typical pro-choice default of their party tend to brand themselves as “pro-life for the whole life,” bringing in positionsagainst capital punishment and for poverty relief as well—issues that can appeal to some Christian voters.

Michael Wear, who conducted faith outreach for the Obama White House and serves as a Democrats for Life board member, suggested that fellow believers are often more excited at the idea of a pro-life Democrat than the candidates themselves.

“I want for Christians to be able to affirm what is good and reject what is bad in both parties. That’s the type of conversation I want to see more of in 2018 and going into 2020,” he told CT in an interview prior to Election Day.

“I don’t want to hear the rhetoric of ‘we don’t have any pro-life Democrats in the party,’ and then we’re doing nothing to support them.”

Two of three senators endorsed by Democrats for Life (who still face criticism from pro-life groups in general) won re-election bids: Joe Manchin in a tight West Virginia race and Bob Casey Jr. in Pennsylvania. But Joe Donnelly, known for his reputation as a “conservative Democrat,” lost in Indiana after Republican Mike Braun jumped on the incumbent’s vote against Trump-nominated Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

And the buzz around a handful of fresh pro-life candidates on the left didn’t result in victories at the polls, either.

The two new congressional challengers backed by Democrats for Life—Dawn Barlow, a doctor and a Church of Christ member in Tennessee, and Tim Bjorkman, a judge and Mennonite Church USA Sunday School teacher in South Dakota—failed to beat their Republican opponents.

Billie Sutton, the “pro-life Democratic cowboy” and lifelong Baptist who ran for governor of South Dakota, also lost his race Tuesday, with 47.6 percent of the vote against Republican challenger Kristi Noem, who received 51 percent. It was the closest a Democrat had come to winning a gubernatorial election in the conservative state in more than three decades.

Despite both candidates’ pro-life records in the state legislature, South Dakota Right to Life had endorsed Noem, citing that the 34-year-old Sutton “has been gentle in his anti-abortion rhetoric and gentle in some of his votes.”

Texas gubernatorial candidate Andrew White, a conservative Democrat who ran as “personally pro-life,” didn’t make it to Election Day after losing his runoff in May. Son of the late former Democratic governor Mark White, he was open about his personal view against abortion, which he told CT he attributes to the Holy Spirit changing his heart on the issue, convicting him over the sanctity of life and how “there are no accidents.”

White saw himself as a unifier, hoping to bring pro-life and pro-choice groups together to reduce abortion, but as a Democrat did not have plans to roll back existing access to abortion in the Lone Star State. His position upset potential supporters on both sides: fellow pro-life Christians at his Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) congregation in Houston, who wanted more restrictive policies, and pro-choice lobbyists, who bristled at his suggestion that abortion could be a bad thing and not just a health care decision.

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Source: Christianity Today