Is there any room left within the Democratic Party for pro-life voters? NBC News predicts a major battle over that question as two gubernatorial opportunities open up in the South. In both, the party’s best shot lies with a man who just signed a fetal-heartbeat abortion ban and another who’s defending one in court. Will other Democrats around the country take a pragmatic approach — or open up an internecine fight to purge abortion heresy from their ranks?
I know which way I’m betting:
Across the country, abortion rights are facing their gravest threat in decades from new state laws like Louisana’s, forcing Democrats to choose between principals and pragmatism as they try to win back unfavorable political terrain.
The party now finds itself in the uncomfortable position of running candidates in two of this year’s three gubernatorial races who have played an active role in advancing the bills that swept through Southern statehouses this year to crack down on abortion.
Edwards, the only Democratic governor in the Deep South and the only one who opposes abortion rights, is up for reelection this fall. Next door in Mississippi, Democrats have their best chance in years to win a second governorship in the region.
The expected Democratic nominee there is Attorney General Jim Hood, a proven winner with four statewide victories under his belt. He calls himself “firmly pro-life” and is now vigorously defending his own state’s new anti-abortion law in the courts.
In days past, political parties would turn a blind eye to such heterodoxies, seeing them as practical necessities in dealing with voter differences. Now that all politics have become national — and especially so with the progressive agenda — that may not be possible. Three weeks ago, Kirsten Gillibrand demanded “100 percent” fealty to abortion rights from Democrats no matter the circumstances:
“As a party, we should be 100 percent pro-choice, and it should be nonnegotiable,” Gillibrand said in our interview. “We should not settle for less, and if our party cannot support women’s basic human rights, their fundamental freedoms to make decisions about their bodies and their futures, then we are not the party of women. … I will not compromise on women’s reproductive freedom.”
Last week, Cory Booker followed that up with an explicit rebuke of John Bel Edwards for signing Louisiana’s law — despite the fact that it was sponsored by another Democrat and had bipartisan legislative support:
At a time when Republicans across the country are mounting a coordinated, all-out attack on women's reproductive freedoms, it's unconscionable that someone in our own party would contribute. Democratic leadership should reflect Democratic values. https://t.co/DzdbhGHSS7
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 31, 2019
While Booker and Gillibrand escalate the tension, the other side is sharpening their rhetorical blades as well. Alex Seitz-Wald notes that the Louisiana bill’s Democratic sponsor, John Milkovich, spoke of the need to fight “an ethical insurgency against the abortion industry.” Another Louisiana Democrat argued that abortion is a tool of racist and economic oppression:
State Rep. Katrina Jackson, an African-American Democratic woman, sees no conflict between her opposition to abortion and the core values of her party since she sees abortion as a tool of racial and economic oppression.
“I think it mitigates our race’s voting power, it hurts our race’s power in the Census. I really consider it to be modern-day genocide,” she told NBC News.
Jackson’s not making a new argument. Here she is from five years ago, using a legislative hearing to tell a white abortion activist not to speak for African-Americans:
And she also appeared at the March for Life this year, presumably one of the few Democratic officeholders to do so. Jackson makes reference to the difference in Louisiana culture on abortion, and why she fights against abortion:
Thus far, however, a civil war would be a decidedly one-sided affair. We can expect the Democratic presidential candidates to line up firmly under the Planned Parenthood banner, even Joe Biden, who will otherwise tout his Catholic faith on the campaign trail. If one breaks out, the first casualties will be Edwards and Hood, and perhaps Jackson as well, which will only turn red states even redder. Eventually, however, it will contribute to the growing brittleness within the Democratic Party, the lock-step demands on the progressive agenda, and a growing disconnect between an urban-academic party and a vast number of actual voters outside that bubble.
The best strategy right now for everyone else is to highlight that divide in hopes of convincing Democrats to speak out for life. And, of course … to pass the popcorn.