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February 4, 2011

Senate Pro-Life Democrats: Extinct or Endangered?

The Senate rejected an effort by Republicans to repeal last year's healthcare law on Wednesday, failing on a straight party line vote, 51 to 47 with every Democrat opposing repeal. Whether you consider pro-life Democrats extinct or endangered depends on one's view of the healthcare law passed last year.

For many pro-life groups, the healthcare law is the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade. For instance, pro-life Democrats in the Senate are now “extinct,” according to LifeNews.com. For Democrats who supported the bill, however, the law does not fund abortion and the executive order signed by the President ensures this prohibition.

Of the 53 Senators in the Democratic coalition, three are more pro-life than pro-choice, according to the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC): Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D-PA). Each senator has a long pro-life record. Nelson and Casey voted in favor of the healthcare bill. Manchin, who is new to the Senate, joined Nelson and Casey in voting against a motion this week to repeal the healthcare law. The repeal failed on a party-line vote, 51-47.

For pro-life groups, this was a vote against the movement. LifeNews.com political blogger, Andrew Bair, said, "The U.S. Senate lost its last-standing pro-life Democrat today when Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia betrayed his long-held pro-life convictions to vote against the repeal of the pro-abortion Obama healthcare law."

Manchin said he does not support all parts of the healthcare law, but he would rather work to fix the bill rather than adopt the “repeal and replace” approach of Republicans.

“I don’t think that throwing out the good parts of this bill, like helping seniors afford prescription drugs or ending discrimination against people with preexisting conditions, makes good common sense. That’s why I have repeatedly said that we should make every effort to work together on repairing this bill before we start talking about repealing it,” Manchin said.

Nelson said he voted against the repeal because it was bad for his state.

“I continue to support the health reform law because it is the right thing to do for Nebraska. There are a lot of good parts in the bill and some that I will work to improve,” Nelson said. “The repealers already have health care. But they’re ready, willing and eager to take it away from hundreds of thousands of Nebraskans.”

The healthcare law is now* the litmus test pro-life groups like the National Right to Life Commission uses to differentiate between pro-life and pro-choice legislators. Pro-choice groups, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, do not consider healthcare to be an abortion-related issue.

Nelson cosponsored the Nelson-Hatch amendment to the health-care bill last year, which was the Senate version of the Stupak amendment. The amendment would have expressly banned funding for abortion. The amendment failed, but it was supported by Casey and several other Democrats.

Nelson and Casey supported other pro-life efforts in the Senate, including efforts to allow states to designate an embryo a beneficiary of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, to prohibit funding to United Nations Population Fund, expressly permitting crisis pregnancy centers eligible for funding under the Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education, and codifying the right of health-care workers to deny abortion counseling or other family-planning services if doing so would violate their beliefs.

Nelson voted in favor of an effort to return the “Mexico City Policy” (which pro-choice groups call the “global gag order”), which banned funding to groups that promote or endorse abortion. Casey, however, opposed this policy.

In the House of Representatives has a larger coalition of pro-life Democrats than in the Senate. Even with the number of pro-life Democrats in the House cut in half as a result of the November election, around 12 percent of Democrats in the House Democrats vote pro-life. In the Senate, NRLC ratings suggest six percent of Democrats are pro-life.

Editor's note: *The sentence has been corrected.
Due to an editing error, National Right to Life Committee was originally listed incorrectly.



This news story is full of problems.

First, the name of the organization is the National Right to Life Committee, not the Commission.

Secondly, saying Senator Bob Casey has a "long pro-life voting record" is inaccurate. Casey received just a 42 percent from the National Right to Life Committee in the 111th session of Congress -- voting against the pro-life position 4 out of 7 times -- including to support taxpayer funding of groups that perform and promote abortions overseas.

Nelson had just a 57 percent record -- voting against the pro-life position 3 out of 7 times. Manchin's record is 0%, with one vote out of one opposing the pro-abortion position.

Next, you state: "The healthcare law is not the litmus test pro-life groups like the National Right to Life Commission [sic] uses to differentiate between pro-life and pro-choice legislators." But that's not what Douglas Johnson, the NRLC legislative director, wrote in an oped- that appeared in LifeNews.com. (http://www.lifenews.com/2009/11/30/nat-6079/)

About the Senate bill that the House approved as the final version of Obamacare that the three "pro-life Democrats refused this week to repeal, Johnson said last year:

"Any House member who votes for the Senate health bill is casting a career-defining pro-abortion vote. A House member who votes for the Senate bill would forfeit a plausible claim to pro-life credentials. No House member who votes for the Senate bill will be regarded, in the future, as having a record against federal funding of abortion."

Clearly these three senators have abandoned any claims to be completely and fully pro-life. They may vote pro-life on occasion, and it is greatly appreciated it, but any claims to the pro-life mantle have been voided by virtue of their votes against repealing a health care law that fails to prohibit abortion funding and contains conscience and rationing concerns.

Steven Ertelt, Editor

Health care reform is pro-life. It is ironic how so many professed "pro-life" Republicans are the first to propose cuts in medical programs for the poor. A stronger public safety net would help to encourage mothers facing an unexpected preganancy to choose life. I am certainly in favoring of banning abortion and would like to see Democrats become more pro-life. The attacks by "Life Views" and others on pro-life Democrats are only making it easier for Republicans to take voters favoring greater legal protection of the unborn for granted.

I think it is very important for pro-life voters everywhere to support pro-life democrats who are, even occasionally, courageous enough to vote against the majority of their party. And RD, you are so right in your comments.

Split voting records mean little. Some votes are for campaign purposes only and if not needed one may vote for establishing a "record". But when the hard question comes and every vote counts a Democrat Senator or congressman will vote the party line. The Democrat party is the party of abortion; there is no firmer plank in the party platform and it is not possible to be a Democrat and truly oppose abortion. "Pro-life Democrats" are not extinct, they are a mythological creature.

Yes, we need to make sure we support any Democrats that are pro life. It's a tough thing going against the flow.
At Crosspointe we are proud to be pro life! http://www.crosspointechurch.co/

Pro-Life Democrat. There is a real oxymoron!

I am saddened by the loss of pro-life dems. I believe the problem, in part, is that many of the pro-life groups in Washington are so twisted in with the Republican Party that they are unable and unwilling to reach across the lines and align themselves with those promoting life.

Until we can extract this life and death issue from the grip of extremists and partisan players, we'll never make real progress, nor will we appeal to a younger generation of evangelicals (like me) who reject the partisan crap.

The responsibility of moving Democrats more toward abortion lies at least in part with pro-life groups that target pro-life democrats. This last election several pro-life groups actively campaigned against pro-life Democrats. All this does is make sure that nothing will happen to change about abortion law in Washington. Without some bipartisianship no real legislation will ever pass. And as long as pro-life groups are only Republican, then the status quo will be maintained.

Up until fairly recently, the progressive movement and the Democratic Party made clear there were no room for pro-life Democrats. Pro-life Democrats were purged from Congress, and Gov. Bob Casey who not allowed to speak at the 1992 Democratic Convention and was pooed of stage at Cooper Union. Since then, starting largely after the 2004 elections, there was a shift, pro-life Democrats like the governor's son were actively recruited to run for Congressional positions. The pro-life position was removed from the unmentionable views of liberalism and talk of "common ground" started. Obama ran on a conciliatory tone on this issue but most recently there have been signs of a backward shift. HHS has cancelled a government contract based on abortion and mandated that birth control be provided by Catholic associations without a comprehensive conscience provision. So moderate and progressive-minded pro-lifers need to ask themselves this question: how much bending on the part of progressive forces constitutes an adequate common ground compromise on the issue and at what point is it a bridge too far, and abortion must override other concerns? I believe the Catholic Church should lead in such questions, considering that the Church has not taken a consistently conservative political line on issues. It is important in doing so to remember that while the issue may have absolute ramifications, finding a balance for common ground will be murky and require an acute sense of logistical priorities and contexts. It should be remembered that while it may be necessary to ally with hardline right political forces as before, a broader set of alliances would be ideally preferable. Where do you drew the line?