WASHINGTON — Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson and 17 House Democrats petitioned the Democratic Party in May to include a link to the Democrats for Life of America Web site. Since then, media coverage has brought attention once again to the group's yearand- a-half-long battle for recognition within the party.
In a May 14 letter to Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe, pro-life House Democrats such as Bart Stupak of Michigan and Jim Oberstar of Minnesota claimed pro-life Democrats have been “ostracized” from the party.
“Democrats for Life of America has repeatedly requested that a link to its Web site be placed on the Democratic National Committee list of links. To date, the request has been ignored,” the House pro-life Democrats said.
The Democratic National Committee currently provides links to 279 organizations. All five that deal directly with abortion support Roe v. Wade.
Democrats for Life of America has been petitioning the Democratic National Committee for a year and a half, and its persistence might finally be working.
“Back then they weren't even returning my calls,” said Kristen Day, the group's executive director. “Then I finally got through and they said, “No.”
Roll Call, a newspaper widely read in political circles, ran a story about the controversy June 2. Then conservative pundit Bob Novak mentioned the story June 4 on CNN's “Crossfire.”
“Democrats have always prided themselves on being a party that welcomes all kinds of oddballs and deviants,” Novak said. “It still does, with one big exception … Democrats for Life.”
Novak then asked Paul Begala, who worked on President Bill Clinton's presidential campaign, if the Democratic National Committee had made a mistake to not include a link to the Web site.
“Well, it is the party of the big tent,” Begala said. “That is a mistake; you're right to raise it. There are a whole lot of Democrats out there who are pro-life and have a place in the Democratic Party.”
The Democratic National Committee did not return calls for comment, but spokesman Deborah DeShong told Roll Call, the Capitol Hill newspaper, “The request is under review.”
David DiMartino, a spokesman for Nelson, said his boss wrote the letter on behalf of pro-life Democrats across the country.
“The senator is obviously prolife,” DiMartino said. “His philosophy is that the Democratic Party ought to be a party of inclusion. Linking to this Web site would be an act of inclusion to pro-life Democrats, and there are a number of them out there.”
The support of pro-life Democratic members of Congress has aided the cause of the Democrats for Life of America, the executive director said.
“I met with the woman in charge of women's issues and she said that they would look at this issue,” Day said.
The current Democratic Party platform states: “The Democratic Party is a party of inclusion. We respect the individual consciences of each American on this difficult issue [abortion], and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party.”
“I'm not asking for a platform change,” she said. “It's time the Democratic Party says, “Yes, we're a big tent and we respect people who disagree.”
But the Democratic Party's actions have often spoken louder than its words. Pro-life Democrats readily recall the 1992 Democratic National Convention as an example of abortion extremism in the Democratic Party.
The late Bob Casey, then governor of Pennsylvania, said the Democratic Party had always been “the voice of the powerless and the voiceless — workers, women, minorities, the poor, the dispossessed. They have been our natural constituency.”
“Let us add to this list the most powerless and voiceless member of the human family: the unborn child,” Casey said.
But the Democrats not only rejected a pro-life plank to their platform, they also refused the sitting two-term governor a chance to speak at the Democratic National Convention.
In his place, the Democrats invited a Republican abortion activist from Pennsylvania to speak.
Other Democrats have jettisoned their pro-life views in order to join the leadership of the Democratic Party. Dick Gephardt and Dennis Kucinich were once pro-life and are running for president in 2004 as abortion supporters.
Gephardt abandoned the pro-life cause just a little before his first presidential run in 1988, whereas Kucinich formally abandoned his pro-life views in announcing his run for president in January.
Other Democrats such as Jesse Jackson, Al Gore, Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy all professed pro-life views during the 1970s.
In 1971, Kennedy said, “Human life, in its earliest stages, has a certain right, which must be recognized — the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.”
But today, Democrats such as New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and Kennedy demand that all judges appointed to the federal bench promise to defend Roe v. Wade as “settled law.”
“Nominate ideologues willing to sacrifice the interests of many to serve the interests of a narrow few, and you'll have a fight on your hands,” Schumer said. “It's that simple.”
Day said the party's absolutist position on abortion might be the reason Democrats lost close Senate races in Missouri, Georgia and Minnesota in the 2002 elections.
“There's no reason they shouldn't link to a group of loyal Democrats,” she added.
Ray Flynn is chairman of Catholic Alliance, a nonpartisan group that educates Catholics about current political controversies. Flynn, a Democrat, served as mayor of Boston before becoming ambassador to the Vatican during Clinton's presidency. He regretted that the Democratic Party hasn't linked to Democrats for Life of America's Web site.
“This is supposed to be the party of the small person, so at least we should protect the least [powerful] among us,” Flynn said. “They should allow the pro-life Democrats the space on the Web page. Thirty-seven members of Congress consider themselves to be pro-life Democrats.”
Pro-life Democrats stung by Kucinich's recent flip-flop and upset that all nine announced candidates are abortion supporters have hope Bill Devlin will enter the race.
Devlin, a Democratic urban activist from Philadelphia, has not announced intentions to run. But he did release a recent statement, saying, “It is the Democratic Party that has historically demonstrated a strong commitment to assisting those in need.
“As an urban politically active Democrat since 1992, I believe it is imperative that our party uphold that standard of compassion and care, and advocate for the safety of children when they are in the womb, when they are born and throughout their lives.”
Joshua Mercer writes from Washington, D.C.