Democrats for Life of America
|Key people||Kristen Day (Executive Director)|
|Area served||United States|
|Focus(es)||Pro-life political advocacy within the Democratic Party|
Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) is an American political advocacy nonprofit organization that seeks to elect pro-life Democrats and to promote the pro-life position within the Democratic Party regarding euthanasia, capital punishment and abortion. Democrats for Life of America's position on abortion is in opposition to the current platform of the Democratic Party, which supports legal access to abortion.
The group takes no position on most socio-economic issues or any foreign policy. They have drafted the Pregnant Women Support Act, a comprehensive package of federal legislation and policy proposals that supporters hope will reduce the number of abortions. They have an affiliated political action committee, DFLA PAC.
In 1999, Democrats for Life of America was founded to coordinate, at a national level, the efforts of pro-life Democrats.
In the 1960s and 1970s, pro-life Democrats comprised a substantial portion of the Party's membership in the United States Congress and the United States Senate. Some Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidates ran for those offices as pro-life, including Hubert Humphrey and Sargent Shriver. Others were once pro-life before running, such as Ted Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, Bill Clinton and Al Gore. In the 1980s, the influence of pro-life advocates in the Democratic Party declined slowly but considerably. At the 1992 Democratic National Convention, pro-life Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania was allegedly "barred from addressing the Convention because of his antiabortion views". The official reason given by the Convention organizers was that Casey was not allowed to speak because he did not support the Democratic ticket. Kathy Taylor, a pro-choice activist from Pennsylvania, instead addressed the convention. Taylor was a Republican who had worked for Casey's opponent in the previous gubernatorial election. Several pro-life Democrats did address the delegates in 1992, though they did not address the pro-life stance, and were not given prominent prime time slots. Governor Casey's son Bob Casey, Jr., also a pro-life Democrat, spoke during the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
- "Democrats for Life of America exists to foster respect for life, from the beginning of life to natural death. This includes, but is not limited to, opposition to abortion, capital punishment, and euthanasia. Democrats for Life of America is one of over 200 member organizations of Consistent Life: an international network for peace, justice and life."—Democrats For Life website
Many members of Democrats for Life agree with the Consistent life ethic, a term coined by the late Joseph Bernardin, Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, which advocates the defense of all human life from the "womb to the tomb". Proponents of the CLE not only oppose abortion and capital punishment, but also advocate policies that address social and economic issues that are considered to unjustly violate the sanctity of life. For example, many who advocate a CLE would see the question of universal access to affordable health care as a "pro-life" issue.
According to the DFLA, the Democratic Party has suffered in elections from its absolutist pro-choice stance. DFLA points to polls suggesting that the pro-choice policies of the Democratic Party at the national level have cost Democratic candidates votes among religious Americans, especially Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox. DFLA maintains the position that many religious or pro-life Americans would be more willing to support a Democratic candidate, if that candidate were to work to limit or end abortion in the United States through positive social programs and means.
Some pro-life Democrats feel that abortion should be strictly illegal under all conditions except instances in which the mother's life is in danger. Others feel that abortion should be legal under additional circumstances, such as rape and incest. Democrats For Life stresses that pro-life and pro-choice Democrats should unite in a common cause to make abortion rare through social programs, despite their differences of opinion on whether and to what degree abortion should be legal.
As its name implies, DFLA aims to encompass members of the Democratic Party who are pro-life, cutting against the stereotype that Democrats are naturally pro-choice and that those who are pro-life are naturally Republicans.
Relationship to the Democratic National Committee
At the national level, the Democratic Party is supportive of a woman's right to choose abortion. From the 2008 Democratic Party platform:
- "The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions." 
Relationship with other pro-life organizations
In 2010, the previously cordial relationship between DFLA and the pro-life movement at large was significantly damaged amid controversy over the March 2009 decision of pro-life congressman Bart Stupak (D-MI), co-author of the Stupak–Pitts Amendment who for months had led an effort to keep abortion funding out of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, to strike a deal with President Barack Obama in which Stupak and many of his supporters would vote in favor of the bill and Obama would sign an executive order forbidding federal dollars from being used to fund abortions. Nearly all pro-life organizations who had previously supported Stupak (such as the National Right to Life Committee and the Susan B. Anthony List) decried the deal as a farce, saying the executive order lacked the legal force to prevent tax dollars from being used for abortions. In response, DFLA has contended that the health-care reform law accomplishes important pro-life goals, that federal funds will not in fact be used to support abortion, and that other pro-life groups (especially SBA List) are more interested in supporting Republicans than in supporting non-partisan pro-life principles. Several pro-life Democrats were targeted for defeat by national pro-life groups over the PPACA vote, and the ranks of pro-life Democrats were cut roughly in half in the 2010 elections.
Pro-life Democrats in recent elections
In 2003, the group was denied permission to put a link on the Democratic National Committee's website. That same year pollster John Zogby found that 43% of Democrats "agreed with the statement that abortion 'destroys a human life and is manslaughter.'"
During the 2004 Democratic National Convention, DFLA met in Boston, Massachusetts. The organization sponsored a dinner in the Great Hall of the Massachusetts State House that was attended by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, among other notable political figures. They also held a rally in front of the statue of Samuel Adams at Faneuil Hall where former mayor of Boston and ambassador Ray Flynn and other elected officials from around the country spoke. Members of the Board of Directors and rank and file members attended the convention, which was held inside the Fleet Center, and witnessed the delegates adopt a platform that took a much harder line on the issue of abortion. In 2000 the platform stated
The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party. This is why we are proud to put into our platform the very words which Republicans refused to let Bob Dole put into their 1996 platform and which they refused to even consider putting in their platform in 2000: "While the party remains steadfast in its commitment to advancing its historic principles and ideals, we also recognize that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing views on issues of personal conscience like abortion and capital punishment. We view this diversity of views as a source of strength, not as a sign of weakness, and we welcome into our ranks all Americans who may hold differing positions on these and other issues. Recognizing that tolerance is a virtue, we are committed to resolving our differences in a spirit of civility, hope and mutual respect."
In contrast, the 2004 Democratic Platform, as quoted above, is supportive of a woman's right to choose abortion and does not offer any big tent language, though it did state that the Democratic Party aimed to make abortion "safe, legal and rare".
In keeping with their policy of endorsing only pro-life Democrats, the group did not endorse John Kerry or George W. Bush for President in 2004. Following the defeats of the 2004 election, DFLA called on the Party to be more welcoming of pro-life Democrats. They analyzed the results and published them as The Case for Pro-Life Democrats.
After the defeat of Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle in the 2004 elections, Senate Democrats selected Harry Reid of Nevada, the party whip, to become the new leader. Reid, a Mormon, is considered to be pro-life. Pro-life Democrats were encouraged by his elevation.
In January 2005, former Democratic Representative Tim Roemer announced his candidacy to replace outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Roemer, who served on the 9/11 Commission, is pro-life. Pro-choice groups opposed the candidacy, asserting that his opposition to abortion placed him at odds with a majority of Democrats. Roemer was ultimately defeated by Howard Dean in the campaign for the chairmanship, but many pro-life Democrats viewed his candidacy as a positive sign for their cause. Democrats for Life of America supported Roemer, although the organization also acknowledged Howard Dean's attempts to reach out to pro-life Democrats.
In their 2005 book, Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future, Paul Begala and James Carville praised Democrats For Life for their work that led to the Pregnant Women Support Act. In the book they say the legislation "is built around seventeen concrete policy proposals that would reduce the number of abortions.... We believe these proposals would do more to prevent abortions than all the speeches, all the marches and all the campaign ads the pro-lifers have used over the past 30 years." They go on to call it "both good politics and, we think, good policy". The initiative has become legislation known as the Pregnant Women Support Act, which "has gained broad support and even has attracted some Republican backers". The Commonwealth of Virginia is the first state to pass a version of the PWSA.
Organizations and Individuals who support the bill include the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners/Call to Renewal, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Americans United for Life, National Council on Adoption, Life Education and Resource Network, Redeem the Vote, Care Net, Tony Campolo (founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education), Joe Turnham (Chairman, Alabama Democratic Party), U.S. Senator Bob Casey, Jr., and actor Martin Sheen.
For the 2006 midterm elections, the Democratic Party showed signs of being more open to high-profile pro-life candidates, most notably when the pro-choice head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Chuck Schumer, endorsed the ultimately victorious pro-life Senatorial Candidate Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania. Casey, along with the other pro-life Democrats in the Senate, gave Democrats the margin of control after the 2006 election, which resulted in Democrats getting a 51–49 division of the Senate.
In the House, Democrats had a 31-vote majority following the 2006 elections, and 37 pro-life members of the caucus. Not a single Democrat lost their seat in either chamber in 2006. The number of victories of pro-life Democrats placed Democrats over the margin, helping to give Democrats control of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
DFLA officially endorsed 8 candidates in the 2008 elections, 4 of whom were elected. None had been elected to Congress before 2008, though two were incumbents who had been successful in special elections earlier in 2008 (Travis Childers, who easily won re-election in the 1st district of Mississippi; and Don Cazayoux, who was narrowly defeated in the 6th district of Louisiana). Two were competing for open seats (Bobby Bright, successful in the 2nd district of Alabama; and David Boswell, unsuccessful in the 2nd district of Kentucky). Four were challenging incumbents (Kathy Dahlkemper, successful in the 3rd district of Pennsylvania; Steve Driehaus, successful in the 1st district of Ohio; Jim Esch, unsuccessful in the 2nd district of Nebraska; and Bill O'Neill, unsuccessful in the 14th district of Ohio).
The organization has endorsed Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper and Congressmen Jim Oberstar, Joe Donnelly, Steve Driehaus and many other pro-life Democrats for the 2010 midterm elections, and its PAC raised over $42,000 in 2010. Of the four mentioned above, only Donnelly was successfully re-elected. Oberstar was defeated after 18 terms. Additionally, all four of the freshmen successfully endorsed by DFLA in 2008 were defeated for re-election in 2010 (see above).
- Shailagh Murray (January 21, 2007). "Democrats Seek to Avert Abortion Clashes". The Washington Post. p. A5.
- The New Republic: Casey And The Democratic Convention. April 19, 2007.
- Washington Post: Casey Speaks to a Changed Party. August 26, 2008.
- Official Democratic Party platform, p. 50
- Interview with Bob Casey, Jr. | Valerie Schmalz | July 29, 2005
- Democrats for Life Keeps Trashing Pro-Life Groups on ObamaCare, Abortion
- Thomas C. Berg, Abortion and Key Provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), www.democratsforlife.org, 12 July 2010, accessed 23 January 2011
- Obama Administration reiterates that that no federal funds will be used for abortion, www.democratsforlife.org, 16 July 2010, accessed 23 January 2011
- Susan B. Anthony List acts with reckless disregard for the truth, www.democratsforlife.org, 15 October 2010, accessed 23 January 2011
- Tobin Grant and Ruth Moon, The Death of Pro-Life Democrats, Christianity Today, 28 October 2010, accessed 23 January 2011
- "New National Abortion Poll Shows Majority of Americans are Pro-Life". Zogby International. 2004. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Rep. Lincoln Davis (2006). "Davis Introduces Comprehensive Proposal". Archived from the original on 2007-01-11. Retrieved 2007-01-24.
- Democrats For Life of America
- "Act Blue" page of Democrats for Life
- Health vote haunts anti-abortion Democrats