Democrats, Stop Wavering On Abortion Rights

by Lani Seelinger
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A troubling pattern emerges if you start looking at who in the Democratic Party supports women's reproductive rights and who doesn't. Though disappointing, it's far from surprising that all of the anti-abortion Democrats are men. Let me put that another way — all of the Democratic politicians in Congress who want to institute laws limiting what women can do with their own bodies are not women.

Anti-abortion Democrats do not make up a huge segment of the party's presence in Congress, but it's important to consider the implications of harboring that viewpoint within the party at all. Who do women have to support and fight for their full rights as humans, if not the Democrats? The Republican Party has shown itself to be willing to attack women's rights on all fronts, from limiting access to contraception to wanting to ban abortion outright to resisting efforts to enshrine equal pay into the law. Women who want to maintain and improve their equal position in society need a place to turn to and viable candidates to vote for, and for now, the Democrats are who they've got. Why, then, has the party shown that it is willing to throw them under the bus?

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After the disaster that was the election, the Democrats have struggled to find a cohesive platform and get back into the business of winning elections. A popular vote victory in the presidential election does not a president make, after all.

Take the election of Tom Perez as DNC chairman, for example. Perez's win was seen as a nod to the party establishment, but he immediately began taking steps to involve the far-left wing of the party by embracing Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and his former rival, Keith Ellison. Things got testy, however, when Perez said that all Democrats should be pro-choice — a far stronger call for ideological purity than any of his fellow party leaders had made in the past.

While the statement was met with celebration from major pro-choice advocates like NARAL Pro Choice America, several Democratic politicians did not react favorably. The core of their argument was that there should be room in the Democratic Party for anyone, including the sorts of red-state Democrats who might not be social progressives, but share the party's view on other issues.

“We ought to be able to include everyone, as opposed to saying ‘No, we don’t want these folks, even though they fight with us on jobs, even though they fight with us for economic rights, even though they fight with us on healthcare,’" said Indiana Sen. Joe Donnelly, one of those anti-abortion Democrats.

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And for all his talk about women's rights and other progressive issues, Sanders chose to campaign with Heath Mello, a pro-life candidate for mayor of Omaha. At the same time, he refused to endorse Jon Ossoff, the main Democratic candidate in a special congressional election in Georgia, who Sanders said was not progressive enough on economic issues.

Although Sanders himself is staunchly pro-choice, this drew fire from critics who saw it as a prioritization of economic issues over reproductive freedom.

"Abortion access is not a 'single issue' or a 'social issue," said Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in response to Sanders' support of Mello. "It is a proxy for women to have control over our lives, our family's lives, our economic well-being, our dignity, and human rights." Bustle reached out to Hogue for comment on this issue.

Hogue's argument encapsulates the broader ramifications of including anti-choice Democrats within the party. For many women who seek to end a pregnancy — particularly low-income women that run up against any number of the roadblocks in the states they live in — abortion is very much an economic issue. Why is the party so unwilling to champion women's rights unequivocally, and yet many are willing to pander to those who seek to limit their rights? Yes, there are certainly anti-abortion women in the Democratic Party, and there are even a number of pro-choice female Democratic politicians, like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who have called for embracing candidates and party members no matter their views on abortion.

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Moving forward, Democrats need to ask themselves why the majority of them insisting that the party can welcome anti-abortion politicians are actually men. These aren't the people whom abortion policy affects, but for some reason, they're still quite content to speak out on the issue. And as time goes on, their position is getting more an more unpopular. More and more Americans support abortion rights. This isn't an issue where it will pay to be left behind, especially since women make up half of the population. Wouldn't it pay to cultivate a large, increasingly powerful female electorate? Aren't there elections to be won in that? And more than that, don't women matter? Don't their rights matter? Don't their dignity and their economic freedom and their control over their own bodies matter? What is the party saying, if it chooses to waver on women's reproductive rights?

Those who impose their moral views on abortion on the rest of the country have a party to turn to, and it's not the Democrats. Women need a party that embraces them wholeheartedly and will fight for their dignity, and that isn't the Republicans. To the male anti-abortion Democrats in Congress — you should take a hard look at who exactly you're standing up for.