The beauty of an ostensible contradiction is that it is an invitation to discover a paradox, a supposed contradiction that when observed fully and deeply is actually the manifestation of concordant and profound truths. Thus, the historically and culturally loaded term “pro-life Democrat” appears to be a contradictory moniker, but upon analysis it is not.
To be pro-life is to see the dignity and inherent worth in every human being and to work to create a society that respects and celebrates life in every circumstance, whether it is the lives of people of color, the LGBT community, children at the border, immigrants, a child in the womb, and the multitudes of other adjectives and nouns that describe the breadth and diversity of human life. If members of the pro-life community truly believe all human life, even that in the womb, on death row, or terminally ill, is worth protecting and defending, then it follows that they would do everything in their power to create a society that respects the lives of all human beings.
The same values that compel one to be pro-life and see the dignity and worth in all human beings are the exact same ones that motivate them to share in the dream of the Democratic party for a nation built on equality and progress. To respect life, there must be policies in place that reduce poverty, provide universally accessible healthcare services, secure the opportunity of a good education for every American, preserve the environment, and protect the human rights of minority groups: all goals of the Democratic party and features of their most recent party platform. Thus, the Democratic party is founded on the ideals of using proactive policy to secure justice, progress, inclusion, and equality for all. Those who are pro-life Democrats rely on the actualization of these ideals to create societal structures that respect all human life.
Many people see practices such as abortion, stem-cell research, and euthanasia as necessary steps in promoting progress and equality. While it is noble to advocate for the realization and manifestation of these goals, pro-life Democrats believe that the unborn and the sick are still human beings who must be factored into the balancing equation between progress and equality. The pro-life organization New Wave Feminists expresses this tension in the following quote: “When our liberation costs innocent lives, it’s merely oppression redistributed.” If any practice redistributes oppression, it works against the goals of promoting equality for all humanity and defeats the very essence of progress, the core of Democratic ideals. Because they share in the Democratic vision of progress, pro-life Democrats are compelled to oppose these practices.
However, there are also those who support ending such practices but do not realize the necessity of a massive cultural and political change in order to create a society that is equipped to deal with the ramifications of fully respecting life. As members of the Democratic party, pro-life Democrats are committed to enacting this change through life-affirming policy by ensuring the economic equality of women, reducing gun violence, and combating every form of abuse and harassment. In addition, pro-life Democrats engage in changing the cultural narrative that violence can achieve justice, equality, or human flourishing.
As a result, Pro-life Democrats are compelled by their Democratic beliefs in creating a future that is free of oppression to support pro-life goals of ending the practices that tuck oppression into quieter corners by affecting the most vulnerable. This also entails supporting constructive programs that create this future without resorting to violence as a means. By accepting the invitation to reflect on the paradox expressed by the label “pro-life Democrat,” it is evident that the two terms are not mutually exclusive, and that together they offer a deeper vision of what it means to stand for equality and to respect human life.
Support for legalized abortion with minimal restriction has become so identified with the Democratic Party that it is hard for many to imagine any alternative viewpoint among Democrats. Dissenting pro-life Democrats come under attack from both other Democrats and other abortion opponents. For the former, opponents to abortion in the party are merely the vestigial remnants of an unfortunate past who ought to be swept into the dustbin of history along with the segregationist Dixiecrats. By contrast, much of the national anti-abortion movement sees pro-life Democrats as constituting a Potemkin village: useful during national elections for winning conservative-leaning votes but otherwise muzzled and impotent. However, an honest reckoning of the evidence shows no contradiction in being a pro-life Democrat and that in fact is the most coherent and consistent position.
The supposed death of the pro-life Democrat has been much exaggerated. Dozens of them hold office at the federal and state levels. Governor John Bel Edwards won a decisive victory in conservative Louisiana and subsequently pursued both pro-life and progressive policies in office, becoming one of the most popular governors. Polling suggests up to one-third of Democratic Party voters identify as pro-life, translating to several million voters. The most recent testament to the enduring strength of pro-life Democrats occurred this year when Representative Dan Lipinski in Illinois beat back a pro-choice primary challenger despite unprecedented campaigning against him.
Thus pro-life Democrats do exist and in some number. However, is there not an ideological or philosophical contradiction? In its 200 years of history, the Democratic Party has claimed, albeit imperfectly, to be the party that stands for the rights and interests of “the people”. The modern incarnation derives from the Depression when Democrats recognized social welfare programs and amelioration of economic inequality were necessary, and the Civil Rights revolution of the sixties when the party finally began to champion people of color, women, and LGBTQ individuals. Naturally, pro-choice advocates see abortion rights as part of this evolution. However, the dynamics of abortion diverge from these other issues since the right to an abortion produces a conflict with the right to life of the unborn fetus who is inevitably killed in the procedure. Ironically, the closest parallel is not to civil rights battles but rather debates over gun ownership which produce a similar tension of rights given the deadly nature of firearms.
Instead, the pro-life position is much closer to the views and values of the Democratic Party in many respects. It advances both individual rights and egalitarianism by arguing that the fetus is entitled to the basic right to life which they possess by being a human being, regardless of any other qualifier. At the same time, they affirm the ideal of solidarity for both individuals and society. While the pro-life movement generally agrees that the mother has a unique bond and duties to the child meaning that financial considerations or reasons of convenience cannot justify abortion, its more conservative adherents fail to extend this logic further. When it comes to dealing with the economically underprivileged including poor children and their parents, many fall back upon arguments extolling individualism that echo pro-choice arguments about abortion rights as self-empowerment and the need for markets to be utterly unfettered by any social consideration regardless of how inimical the results may be for human life. By contrast, pro-life Democrats recognize that reducing and eliminating abortion requires a multi-pronged strategy beyond but not exclusive of passing legislation against it and which would be driven by recognition that solidarity needs to be extended to one’s neighbors and fellow citizens. They recognize that while free markets have produced tremendous wealth and growth, their unfettered operation results in social atomization that undermines the natural bonds of society, especially the family. They realize that higher wages, paid leave, free childcare, and guaranteed health insurance for families not only eliminate incentives to an abortion but allow children to live healthy, fulfilling lives even after their birth. Similarly, they see that affirming pro-life values requires standing with refugees and immigrants fleeing violence and want at home as well as LGBT Americans who are disproportionately at risk of suicide.
Speaking frankly, this is the intersectionalist position that positively affirms both the right to life of the unborn but also the underlying socioeconomic, racial, and sexual hierarchies that contribute to abortion and otherwise cheapens human life and dignity. Not only is there no contradiction in being a pro-life Democrat, but it is the most internally consistent by resolving many of the tensions that both the standard Republican and Democratic views have. By offering a clear vision of a better America where life is respected at all stages and every human being can live lives of dignity and meaning, pro-life Democrats can build a new political coalition that will actually achieve this brighter future.
“Democrats believe that we’re greater together than we are on our own – that this country succeeds when everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules” (Taken from the Democratic Party Mission Statement).
The Democratic Party has long been the party of the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, and the voiceless. Its mission is to lift up the powerless to give them a fighting chance. Being Pro-Life is not inconsistent with this Party’s mission, but rather taking it to its natural conclusion. The unborn are the most vulnerable and voiceless population in our country today, and because of this they have suffered immensely at the hands of Pro-Choice policies. Conservative studies estimate 45 million legal abortions since Roe v. Wade, and the United States performs about 13,000 late term abortions yearly. When faced with these horrific statistics, how can the party which led the fight for civil rights and immigration reform, which opposes wars abroad and capital punishment, which has for decades had its focus on the dignity and inalienable rights of all people, regardless of religion, race, age, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation, turn a blind eye to this horrific injustice happening within its own society?
Far from being hypocritical or contradictory, Pro-Life Democrats are simply living out their party’s ideal of supporting and uplifting the disadvantaged. However, in an age of polarized politics, principled nuance, especially on abortion, is becoming less welcome. DNC chairman Tom Perez’s ultimatum that Democratic candidates must support abortion on demand was not about party solidarity, but rather ideological tyranny of the party elites. Recent rhetoric and pressure has led to a sharp decrease in elected Pro-Life Democrats, in spite of evidence showing that a majority of Americans would support restrictions on abortion, and that many who identify as Pro-Choice would support limiting abortion to the first few months of pregnancy. Far from the big-tent party identity past Democrats have worked so hard to uphold, there is now a robust, concerted effort to exclude Democrats who fail the Pro-Abortion litmus test, making a future where the ideology of the party rules over the individual morality and judgement of the candidates. In our viciously divisive political climate, it is now more important than ever before to articulate the idea that one can be Pro-Life and a Democrat, and that it is a consistent and principled position to take. Abortion is the defining social justice concern of our time, as slavery and segregation were in the past. It is not going away, and growing polarization on the topic is not leading to a peaceful resolution. Reaching across the aisle to show that the abortion question transcends blue and red to a human rights concern is part of the healing process that will keep the dialogue peaceful and progressive.
A Pro-Life Democrat is someone who consistently supports the inalienable rights of all people guaranteed from the time of this country’s founding. He or she recognizes that the purpose of government is to protect these rights, whether in the form of welfare programs, immigration reform, or laws protecting the right to life of those not yet born. He or she will hold these beliefs firm, even when compromising them would garner more political support and increase the chances of being elected. A Pro-Life Democrat is exactly the type of person who would have the integrity and nuanced perspective to help bridge the divides that plague our politics and society today. Their message is one of hope and power: that no person, whether immigrant, refugee, or unborn, is an inconvenience; that society is capable of supporting women through difficult pregnancies; that one can and should hold onto principled beliefs in the face of political pressure; and that political parties do not define American politics. They are defined by us, the American people, and whether Democrat, Republican, Pro-Life, or Pro-Choice, a dialogue of ideas, rather than ideological tyranny, is the path to progress and healing our society.
Winners and their winning essays
We have our three winners!
Winning Essay - by James White
The Democratic Party has long been the party of the downtrodden, the disadvantaged, and the voiceless. Its mission is to lift up the powerless to give them a fighting chance. Being Pro-Life is not inconsistent with this Party’s mission, but rather taking it to its natural conclusion...
1st Runner-Up Essay - by Casey Cho
Support for legalized abortion with minimal restriction has become so identified with the Democratic Party that it is hard for many to imagine any alternative viewpoint among Democrats. Dissenting pro-life Democrats come under attack from both other Democrats and other abortion opponents. ....
2nd Runner-Up Essay
The beauty of an ostensible contradiction is that it is an invitation to discover a paradox, a supposed contradiction that when observed fully and deeply is actually the manifestation of concordant and profound truths. Thus, the historically and culturally loaded term “pro-life Democrat” appears to be a contradictory moniker, but upon analysis it is not...
Winners will be announced July 24th!
We had many wonderful entries, and choosing just three winners was very difficult. The judges have made their decisions, and we will post the three winning entries here on Tuesday, July 24th. Keep an eye on this space!