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Democrats for Life of America

Democrats for Life of America (DFLA) is an advocacy group in the United States attempting to reshape the political left, primarily the Democratic Party, into taking a pro-life position. Usually this involves political opposition to abortion, but DFLA also opposes capital punishment and euthanasia. Democrats for Life of America's position on abortion is in direct opposition to the current platform of the Democratic Party, which explicitly supports legal access to abortion.

The group usually supports traditional Democratic principles on socio-economic issues and foreign policy. They have drafted the Pregnant Women Support Act, a comprehensive package of federal legislation and policy proposals that will reduce the number of abortions. They have an affiliated political action committee, DFLA PAC.

Mission

"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

Some supporters of Democrats for Life agree with the Consistent Life Ethic. The Consistent Life Ethic, a term coined by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, 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 which 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 which suggest that the pro-choice policies of the Democratic Party at the national level have cost Democratic candidates votes among religious Americans, especially Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, and Pentecostals, Baptists and other Evangelical Christians. 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 illegal under most conditions. Some feel that abortion should be legal under select circumstances, such as instances in which the mother's life is in danger. 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.

Comparison to the Democratic National Committee

The mission of the Democrats For Life of America is divergent from the stance of the national Democratic Party. At the national level, the Democratic Party is explicit in its support 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."

Both the national Democratic Party and the Democrats for Life of America seek to make abortion rare. The national Democratic Party's stated intention is to protect legal access to abortion, while simultaneously working to reduce the number by supporting social programs. While Democrats for Life of America also supports the implementation of such programs, in particular the Pregnant Women Support Act, they also strongly advocate for pro-life Democrats who support restricting access to abortion. This divergence highlights a crucial difference between the pro-choice and the pro-life viewpoints: while both groups advocate for reducing the number of abortions through social supports, pro-life groups also place emphasis on legally restricting access to abortion. Pro-choice groups maintain that abortion must remain safe, affordable, and legal. The party, under the leadership of Howard Dean, has softened their hard line stance in recent years, however, and has begun to support pro-life Democrats.

History

In the the 1960s and 1970s, pro-life Democrats formed a substantial portion of the Party's membership in the United States Congress and Senate. Some Democratic Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates were also pro-life, like Humbert Humphrey and Sargent Shriver. In the 1980s, the influence of pro-life advocates in the Democratic Party declined 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.

In 1999, Democrats for Life of America was founded to coordinate, at a national level, the efforts of pro-life Democrats. 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 which 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 explicit in its support of a woman's right to choose abortion and does not offer any big tent language.

Following the defeats of the 2004 election, DFLA called on the Party to be more welcoming of pro-life Democrats. This happened in the 2006 elections, most notably when the pro-choice head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Senator Chuck Schumer, endorsed the ultimately victorious Senatorial Candidate Bob Casey, Jr. of Pennsylvania. Casey, along with the other pro-life Democrats in the Senate, give Democrats the margin of control in the 51-49 division of the Senate.

In the House, Democrats have a 31-vote majority, and 37 pro-life members of the caucus. Not a single pro-life Democrat lost their seat in either chamber. The number of victories of pro-life Democrats placed Democrats over the margin, helping to give Democrats control of the US Senate and House of Representatives.

Recent events

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. After the election 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 to the new leader. Reid, a Latter-day Saint, is generally considered to be moderately pro-life. Along with House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Reid is now one of the prominent figures in the Party. Pro-life Democrats have been encouraged by his elevation.

In their 2005 book, Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future, Paul Begala and James Carville praise 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 "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 who support the bill include the National Association of Evangelicals, Sojourners/Call to Renewal, US 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.

In January 2005, former Democratic Representative Tim Roemer announced his candidacy to replace outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe. Roemer, a member of 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.

Recently, some pro-choice Democrats such as Senator Hillary Clinton have softened their positions on abortion in an attempt to reach out to pro-life voters.

In an e-mail to supporters, Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America worried that DFLA is growing in strength and a threat to the continued pro-choice stance of the Democratic Party.

Endorsed candidates

2008 candidates endorsed by Democrats for Life

References

External links

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