August 1, 2017
"It's a litmus test. It's a clarifying issue like none I've ever seen. We're talking about people's lives and health and money." —RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United union, NBC News on Sunday, July 30
Should the Democratic Party put a litmus test on an issue that affects “people’s lives and health and money”? Yes, according to party activists like DeMoro, whose union aggressively backed Vermont senator Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. DeMoro’s quote anchors an article analyzing what pundits appear to consider one of the most pressing planks of the Democratic platform. According to Democratic power brokers, when it comes to being embraced as a viable party-backed candidate it is imperative that you say you support a single-payer health-care system.
Meanwhile, just one day later, the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee states that opposing the right to obtain a safe, legal abortion is no longer a deal-breaker for the party.
“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), chairperson of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told The Hill, referring to their decision to not exclude anti-abortion Democrats from the pool of potential candidates to support in 2018. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”
These two statements, made just days apart, explain exactly what is wrong with the Democratic Party and why it continues to struggle to regain any sort of majority power in state and federal politics. Health care is an urgent, universal need that the GOP not only continues to remain in opposition to, but is actively trying to destroy. It is an economic security issue, and one that affects every couple, family, and single person in the nation. It is so vital to success in America that activists are urging that single-payer health care—a guarantee that every person in the nation has access to health care without fear of being driven into poverty to afford it—be a mandatory pledge from any serious candidate in the party.
Then they disinclude abortion from that same criteria.
“Abortion is not health care” is a common talking point from the anti-abortion right. They’ve used it to renew the annual Hyde Amendment, which forbids Medicaid from paying for abortion as it does for contraception and prenatal care. They’ve used it to forbid even private insurers in some states to cover a termination, even if that insurance is paid completely with an insuree’s own funds. And they are using it to try to bring down the Affordable Care Act—a small but necessary first step in health care for all Americans—which they are happy to destroy as long as it could possibly defund Planned Parenthood in the process.
“Abortion is not health care” is a rallying cry of the religious right, which is why it is so disappointing to see that same refrain being reinforced over on the left as well.
If the Democratic Party is truly going to make the health care fight one of the defining issues of the 2018 and 2020 election cycles, then we have to finally agree that abortion is itself a health care issue. To deny someone the ability to end an unwanted-to-nonviable pregnancy safely is to force that person to put their physical health in jeopardy, either by seeking out a less safe option for termination or by putting their body through the physical risks and potentially permanent health complications of bringing a pregnancy to term and delivering a baby.
Abortion is health care. Period. And if health care for all is a Democratic litmus test, then legal abortion must be, too.
Unfortunately, even the push back on the DCCC for its potential embrace of anti-abortion candidates is lost in the morass of tepid support. “I'm afraid I'll be with holding support for the DCCC if this is true,” former DNC Chair and former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean strongly tweeted back at The Hill in response to Luján’s public statement. But later, The Hill stated, Dean explained that “there are ‘degrees of pro life’ and that he doesn't want to contribute to any candidates who ‘oppose all abortion rights.’"
So would Dean be willing to contribute resources to those who just oppose “some” abortion rights? Is it acceptable to oppose “some rights” as long as it isn’t a total ban on the procedure? Who gets to decide exactly how anti-abortion is too anti-abortion to be a Democrat, and would that then be construed as a litmus test, too? Dean’s half-hearted attempt to navigate the controversy shows exactly why a firm line has to be drawn in the first place, regardless of how desperate the party players are to avoid it all together and play both sides.
Whether the Democratic Party focuses on health care or on economic justice as their frame heading into the next election cycle, it is impossible for the left to divorce these issues from the fundamental right for a pregnant person to decide whether or not to give birth. The Democratic Party is a party that believes in civil rights and equality for all. Opportunity should not be limited based on a person’s gender, race, physical or mental abilities, economic standing, religion, or sexual orientation.
People within the party may disagree about how we go about supporting justice for all, what we prioritize and how we campaign on our issues, but basic tenets cannot be denied. And the right to a safe, legal, and accessible abortion as fundamental to a person’s health and economic welfare is one of them.
After all, we are talking about people’s lives and health and money.