The Democratic Party continues its soul-searching in hopes of building a winning coalition and moving the party forward after its devastating loss in November. That debate—seemingly centered on focusing more on economic justice—has landed on abortion, polarizing the party and progressives around this fundamental issue as Bernie Sanders endorsed and campaigned for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, an anti-choice Democrat who has supported abortion restrictions.
Abortion, which enjoys broad support in the United States, has somehow become the scapegoat for the Democratic losses in November. Following up on the controversy surrounding Sanders’s endorsement of Mello, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi made her position clear in an interview with the Washington Post:
“This is the Democratic Party. This is not a rubber-stamp party.”
She defended the party’s position on abortion, saying that “within the Democrats, I don’t think that you’ll see too many candidates going out there and saying ‘I’m running as a pro-life candidate.’ It’s how far you are willing to on the issue—but let’s not spend too much time.”
Never mind the fact that there are Democrats who run as pro-life and do indeed vote against abortion rights. One final comment really solidified the problem with her entire statement:
“[Abortion] is kind of fading as an issue. It really is.”
Juxtapose this myopic comment with the current reality of abortion rights in this country.
There have been 350 abortion restrictions enacted since 2010, and 1,053 abortion restrictions have been proposed in the first few months of 2017 alone. The majority of American women now live in a state hostile to reproductive rights, and 90 percent of U.S. counties have no safe abortion clinic. The House is hurrying through an atrocious health-care bill that will classify sexual assault and pregnancy-related complications as pre-existing conditions and defund Planned Parenthood. Vice-President Mike Pence has stacked the federal government with anti-abortion zealots who not only want abortion completely illegal, but do not support contraception. President Trump signed a bill into law that guts Title X and allows states to defund Planned Parenthood, reinstated the Global Gag Rule that bans federal funding for global organizations that perform or counsel about abortions, and defunded UNFPA, the UN agency that supports women’s reproductive health worldwide. He also appointed abortion opponent Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, leaving Roe v. Wade teetering on the brink of repeal.
Abortion is very much an issue, more so than ever.
As Democratic leaders continue to diminish the importance of safe abortion, women, trans men, and gender nonconforming people are essentially hearing that our health and matter less than winning elections. Abortion access is not a side issue; it is a fundamental aspect of our liberty. If the Democratic Party wants to court white cis-male voters by abandoning abortion rights, they will be abandoning the backbone of the party. Not only that, it will be abandoning all for which it claims to stand.
The refusal of the Democratic Party to fully embrace abortion, to not just quietly vote for abortion rights but to actively champion it as a fundamental right, is, in part, how we got here. It’s great to have a 100 percent rating from NARAL, but that doesn’t necessarily make you a champion for reproductive freedom. “Safe, legal, and rare” isn’t a common phrase anymore, but it’s core message still underwrites the Democratic Party’s approach to this issue—abortion is inherently shameful and bad.
Except, of course, it’s not.
If we want to truly end the tidal wave of misogynistic restrictions that abortion opponents continue to ride through state legislatures and now, the federal government, we cannot stigmatize that which we’re supposed to be supporting.
Are you a Democrat? Then you need to support safe and legal abortion, not because the party requires uniformity of thought, but because supporting basic human and constitutional rights is a Democratic prerequisite.
Abandon abortion, and we abandon you.