The Magazine

Endangered Species

The demise of the pro-life Democrat.

Apr 28, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 31 • By MARIA SANTOS
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Kristen Day has just sent an email thanking a Democratic state representative in Michigan for supporting a bill banning abortion funding in Obamacare. He’s grateful for her note—she’s only the second person to thank him. “It’s a really lonely road, to be a pro-life Democrat,” she remarks.

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Kristen Day

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It’s lonelier than ever in 2014. Day is the president of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA). Her organization once had around 50 elected officials on Capitol Hill, but now has only 7. She used to work closely with pro-life powerhouses like the National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List, but “I was kind of kicked out of the pro-life movement,” she says with a wry laugh. In fact, she’s involved in the story behind an SBA List lawsuit that heads to the Supreme Court this week.

How thankless is Day’s job? Her party’s platform “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade,” and party leaders are not interested in dissenting views. “There are some Democrats who would rather be in the minority than have pro-life Democrats in the party,” she admits. “They have come right out and said it.”

It wasn’t always this way. In 1977, Democrats had a 292-seat majority in the House, and 43 percent of them consistently voted pro-life. Day’s book, Democrats for Life: Pro-Life Politics and the Silenced Majority, details how the party eventually became dominated by pro-abortion advocates. She says it comes down to the massive funding of pro-abortion groups like Planned Parenthood and NARAL. In the primary for Maine’s 2nd Congressional District, for example, DFLA is backing a pro-life candidate, Troy Jackson. But running against him is Emily Cain, a candidate on EMILY’s List, a powerful pro-abortion election machine. “They’re throwing tons of money into the campaign,” says Day, adding that Cain “probably won’t win that district if she wins the primary. But Troy Jackson would probably win.” The district’s incumbent, Mike Michaud, originally won the seat as a pro-life Democrat, although his views have since “evolved.” What Democrats don’t realize, she says, is that they need pro-lifers to win back the House.

Day grew up in a Republican home, where opposing abortion was a given. In 1988, while at Michigan State University, and somewhat to her father’s dismay, she got involved with the College Democrats. After graduation, she headed to Capitol Hill to work for Bill Ford, a Michigan congressman at the time. “When you get involved in Democratic politics, that’s what they tell you—you support a woman’s right to choose.” But Day could never quite forget her pro-life roots.

In 1995 she began working for Rep. Jim Barcia, again from Michigan, an anti-abortion Democrat. His other staffers avoided the issue, so Day happily volunteered to take it on. She felt she had finally found her place in the party. As Day tells it, there are more pro-life Democrats on Capitol Hill than most people suspect. They’re simply too scared to vote their consciences. And, a crucial point for Day and DFLA: There are districts in states like West Virginia and Louisiana where Democrats cannot win without a pro-life candidate.

Barcia became the co-chair of the pro-life caucus, along with Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey. Eventually his chief of staff, Day set up a whip operation to advocate for anti-abortion legislation with sympathetic Democrats.

By 2002, pregnant with her first child and looking for a respite from her 80-hour work week, Day became executive director for DFLA. For 10 years, she worked alongside other pro-life groups and regularly attended all the big pro-life meetings—often as a nursing mom, with her small children in tow.

Obamacare would change all of that. Pro-life Democrat Bart Stupak proposed an amendment in the House to forbid taxpayer funding of abortion. Pro-life groups pushed hard, urging their Democratic allies to refuse to vote for Obamacare without the Stupak amendment. At one point, around 60 Democrats supported the amendment. But two weeks before the vote, they changed their minds. Instead of the amendment, 20 Democratic congressmen accepted an executive order from the president promising there would be no taxpayer funding of abortion. With Day’s support, the representatives voted for Obamacare without the Stupak amendment.

To other pro-lifers, this was a betrayal of their agreement: An executive order does not have the legal force to actually prohibit taxpayer-funded abortions.

In the 2010 midterms, the pro-life groups struck back. They targeted the Democrats who had turned on them. Stupak and a few others retired, but most of the 20 who had changed their minds on the amendment were voted out of office.

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