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Endangered Species

Do pro-life Democrats have a future?

Jul 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 40 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Dannenfelser, who once worked for Mollohan when he was the co-chairman of the pro-life caucus, doesn’t delight in the campaign against the Stupak Democrats. The diminishment, if not extinction, of the pro-life Democratic caucus is bad for the pro-life movement, she says. “You want countervailing pressures” from both parties on the issue. Typically, pro-life laws that passed the House have had the support of anywhere from 190 to 210 Republicans, with pro-life Democrats providing the votes for a majority. Pro-life Democrats are never more important than when the Republicans are out of power, as they are now. The fact that the Stupak Democrats failed on an issue like taxpayer-funding of abortion​—something so extreme that even most pro-choice Republicans oppose it, as well as about 70 percent of American voters—left pro-life groups with no other choice than to oppose them.

There are very few sincerely pro-life Democrats left in the House. One is Illinois congressman Dan Lipinski, who was the lone member of Stupak’s group who voted for Obamacare in November (when it included Stupak’s original anti-abortion language) but against it in March. He says he doesn’t question Stupak’s good faith but told Stupak before the vote that “the executive order probably would not stand [in court] and even if it did stand, it only covered part of the abortion funding—the direct funding of abortion [at Community Health Centers], not the fees for [subsidized] health plans.”

Lipinski insists he isn’t the last pro-life Democrat in Congress. “There are other pro-life Democrats, but they were never part of the Stupak group because they never considered voting for the health care bill.” True enough. Most of those 15 to 20 pro-life Democrats were from Republican-leaning districts in the South. They never really had their principles pitted against their self-interest like Lipinski did, as a representative of a heavily Democratic suburban Chicago district.

“I think that for the pro-life movement, it would be very detrimental if this became only an issue of the Republican party,” says Lipinski. But in the wake of the health care vote, that’s the direction the movement is heading—especially if Republicans have the sense to campaign on passing an amendment banning any federal funding of abortion, as New Jersey Republican Chris Smith has proposed. Stupak won’t even commit to calling for the passage of his original amendment. “I’d guess I have to see the context that it’s being put in,” he says. “I am not going to tell future Congresses what they should vote for.”

“Prudence at this point would advise caution in endorsing self-described pro-life Democrats,” says the SBA List’s Dannenfelser. “It would be hard to say that others were tested and proven, but we obviously appreciate their vote,” she says. “There are very few Lipinskis left in this world.”

By crossing the Democratic leadership, Lipinski has run the risk of losing his seat through redistricting or the 2012 primary. Still, he says he has no regrets: “There’s hardly a day that goes by that someone doesn’t stop me out on the street in the grocery store .  .  . especially seniors .  .  . thanking me for my vote on the health care bill. Those are not all Republicans that are doing that.”

John McCormack is online editor of The Weekly Standard.

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