Ahead of March for Life, 2 Democratic State Lawmakers Discuss the Pro-Life Movement and the Theme of ‘Unity’
Kentucky House of Representatives Minority Whip Angie Hatton and Hawaii state Sen. Mike Gabbard are among the speakers for the virtual March for Life.
WASHINGTON — In a time of heightened partisan divisions, two Democratic lawmakers — Kentucky House of Representatives Minority Whip Angie Hatton and Hawaii state Sen. Mike Gabbard — are among the speakers for the virtual March for Life on Friday.
The legislators spoke with the Register via phone and email ahead of the event about how the pro-life issue is a unifying one and how pro-life Democrats can push back on the party’s abortion stance amid a hostile administration. The theme of the 2021 March for Life, revealed in September, is “Together Strong: Life Unites,” and the event features a bipartisan lineup of lawmakers, along with celebrities and prominent pro-life advocates.
Rep. Hatton, a lawyer and mom, told the Register that being asked to speak at the March for Life was “a little bit surreal for a state legislator who is also a Democrat,” but it’s an opportunity that she’s “really excited about.” She added that this year’s theme was a “well-chosen theme for this particular moment in history” and “shows that the organizers have recognized that it takes all of us to reach out to someone with a different political affiliation or religious affiliation or ideation to bridge the gap.”
Sen. Gabbard, a Catholic and father of 2020 presidential candidate and former U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, told the Register that he was “deeply honored to be invited to speak at the 2021 virtual March for Life.” He said that “as the largest annual human-rights demonstration in the world, it’s unfortunate we’re not able to come out in large numbers in a peaceful show of support for the rights of all individuals (including those still in the womb) and instead are having to hold the march virtually.”
Gabbard said that the March for Life’s theme this year “makes sense amidst the contentious climate we now find ourselves in” and referenced the Hawaiian concept of “Aloha,” saying that “one of the best commentaries on the meaning of ‘Aloha’ was by Queen Liliuokalani, the last sovereign monarch of the Hawaiian Kingdom, who said, ‘Aloha was a recognition of life in another. If there was life, there was mana, goodness and wisdom, and if there was goodness and wisdom there was a God-quality.’ The theme ‘Together Strong: Life Unites’ reminds us that we truly are stronger and wiser when we can come together, despite our differences. We are each interconnected, and it takes all kinds of people to create the beautiful fabric we call life. We actually become stronger together when we allow our differences to complement one another.”
Hatton similarly tied the importance of the life issue to the people she serves in Eastern Kentucky, noting that in her district “health-care access is poor, and the education levels aren’t great; and all of those things tend to, in my opinion, need the sort of programs that Democrats promote. But then the people here also are very strongly religious, the church is a very central part of everything that we do and all of our community activities, and so, of course, the pro-life message is the one that is heard here loud and clear. So, for my particular set of people and a lot of rural areas that need the benefit of these social programs, I think the pro-life Democrat is the way to go.”
Pro-Life Democrats as a Force in the Movement
Gabbard believes “it’s possible” for pro-life Democrats to be a significant force in the pro-life movement and emphasized the need to “make our voices heard.” He referenced a recent letter signed by 109 Democrats, including “members of Congress, state legislators and local officials from across the country” that was “addressed to the leaders of the Democratic Party — submitted and paid for by Democrats for Life of America to be placed as an ad in The New York Times.” The statistics the letter highlighted, he believed, show the potential for pro-life Democrats to be a force in the pro-life movement. These statistics included that “many Democratic leaders support abortion at any time, for any reason; this position is opposed by 79% of Americans”; and, “In 389 out of 435 congressional districts, a majority of voters support a ban on abortion after 20 weeks.” The letter also noted the fact that “[p]olling consistently shows that one in three Democrats is pro-life.”
Hatton said that pro-life Democrats like herself find themselves in “ a juxtaposition,” where “our party’s platform has a pro-choice” stance, but where “Democrats promote a whole lot of programs and policies that I believe reduce the need or appeal for abortions in the first place.” She referenced the party’s emphasis on “access to health care, access to other public-safety nets, social services, funding and intervention.”
“While I also agree with laws that outlaw [abortion],” she said, “until the Supreme Court of the United States actually makes the decision to outlaw it, in the meantime we pass legislation in state governments that limit access or make it harder to get one, but we also need to be promoting the sorts of legislation that make fewer people feel that they have to make that decision.” She added that “it’s legislation at the state levels that has reduced the numbers, and Kentucky’s a leader in that.”
Dialogue and Reaching Those in Need
Gabbard said that while pro-life gains might not occur as frequently under the current Biden administration, “regardless, we need to continue the conversation with mutual respect, and aloha. We need to keep talking about this with our friends, our family members, our colleagues, so that when the opportunity does come for change, we’ll be ready.” He added that, “unfortunately, lately the concept of ‘open dialogue’ is becoming less and less an option for people who disagree. I’ve been seeing more and more conversations shut down, or worse, anger arising between disagreeing parties.”
Hatton said that her pro-life stance “comes from my faith and as well as my family upbringing, that all life is precious; but for me as a Democrat, I’m pro-life for the whole life.” And “as far as how to reach other people, I think it’s just as important to reach the pregnant women and influence them in how many choices are available to them and making those choices feasible as it is changing lawmakers’ minds. Because lawmakers can outlaw it, but we need to reduce the need and the desire for that desperate step in the first place.” She said that when she was pregnant she had financial resources and support, “but not everybody has that, so we have to have safety nets in place that reduce basically the demand for abortion.”
For Gabbard, his commitment to the pro-life issue began with “a life-threatening surfing accident at the age of 17,” which, he said, opened his eyes “to the very real and razor-thin line between life and death. I prayed to God that if He allowed me to live, I would dedicate my life to somehow serving Him and His children. In my mind, those children naturally included the ones from conception to natural death.”
“In 2002 I co-wrote a song with my longtime friend, Leon Siu, called Stand as One: E Kupono me ke Aloha, which means ‘to stand strong for what’s right, with love and compassion,’” Gabbard said. “If we’re going to be successful in changing the minds and hearts of others to accept and embrace the culture of life, the rights of the unborn and their mothers, that’s what we must do — stand together for what’s right and always stand firm. People will hear our message in their hearts and know what is right.”
Hatton is urging unification from both major parties around finding “the political courage that it takes to support anti-abortion laws but also to support moms and babies … protecting the safety and the well-being of the mom up until the time she gives birth and beyond and then to make sure that child is healthy and wanted and has the things he or she needs to thrive.”