Looking Beyond the (D): New Anti-Choice Dems Join Congress

Pamela Merritt

Pro-choice initiatives from Prevention First to zeroing out abstinence-only funding will need support from socially conservative Democrats. That's why we need to understand the aims of anti-choice Dems.

Pro-choice advocates added
elected-official ammunition to their cause this November, and, indeed,
the pro-choice Democratic Party is in power in both Congress and the
White House. But some anti-choice Democrats are working hard to show
that not everyone in the party supports legal abortion and reproductive
health.  This November, five of anti-choice Democrats were elected
to Congress, bringing the total number of anti-choice Dems to 30.

Many pro-choice initiatives — like the Prevention First Act, or zeroing out abstinence-only funding — require the support of socially conservative Democrats to make
it through Congress.  With so much hinging on that support, pro-choice
advocates need to know who these anti-choice Democrats are, what they
believe and what reproductive health policy positions and legislation
they intend to support.   

Democrats
for Life of America

(DFLA), the national organization of anti-choice Democrats, has supported many of these anti-choice candidates.  Of fourteen candidates endorsed for Congress in the 2008 elections, five candidates
won their elections; Rep. Bobby Bright, Rep. Parker Griffith, Rep. Steve
Driehaus, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, and Rep. John Boccieri.  They
join 25 anti-choice Democrats in Congress.

Representative Bobby Bright
(D-AL, 2nd District) is the former Mayor of Montgomery. 
Bright sits on the Agriculture, Armed Services and Small Business committees. 
Bright is best known for his views opposing evolution in favor of intelligent
design and voting against SCHIP.  Representative Parker Griffith
(D-AL, 5th District) was a member of the Alabama Senate,
representing the 7th District from 2006 to 2009. The 5th
district includes parts of Madison County and Huntsville.  Representative
Steve Driehaus (D-OH, 1st District) is a former four-term,
Democratic member of the Ohio House of Representatives, representing
the 31st District from 2001 to 2009.  Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA,
3rd District) is a civic leader and successful small businesswoman. 
Dahlkemper has served as Director of Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier
Park (LEAF) in Erie, Pa. for the past ten years.  Rep. John Boccieri
(D-OH, 16th District) is a pilot who served in the Air Force
and Ohio Air National Guard.   

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What all five have in common
is their endorsement by DFLA, which endorses candidates that they are
confident will work hard to promote and pass legislation that will "protect
life at all stages."  The DFLA endorsement brings with it the
expectation that candidates, if elected, will support and advocate for
that organization’s key legislative proposal, the Pregnant Women Support
Act. The Pregnant Women Support Act proposes to assist low-income women
who wish to continue their pregnancies to term.  Cristina Page reviews the highlights:

It would provide financial, medical,
educational assistance, insurance coverage for those in need who ordinarily
would not qualify for it. A woman can get nurse home visits, counseling,
shelter, help with child care, assistance to help her stay in school,
and a lot of other services that may broaden her choices.

And Cristina points out low-lights. Not only does the bill not once mention family
planning initiatives, the bill also would:  "Create a new pilot
program for "Life Support Centers" to offer comprehensive
and supportive services for pregnant women, mothers, and children."  Many suspect that measure to be a way to funnel
funds to crisis pregnancy centers which often mislead women about their
options and bully them into not seeking abortion services.

That’s where the new anti-choice
legislators and their stance on reproductive justice issues come into
play. It would be naïve to downplay legislators’ anti-choice ideologies
simply because they are Democrats.  These anti-choice Democrats
are serious about their support of the Pregnant Women Support Act as
it currently is written, Life Support Center thorns and all.  While
pro-choice advocates should reach out to anti-choice Democrats on prevention
issues like comprehensive sex education and access to birth control,
we should also be mindful that just because someone is hanging out in
the Democratic Party tent that doesn’t mean that they agree with every
part of the party platform. 

That is why so many are looking
to the Pregnant Women Support Act to see what, if any, common ground
will be found.  In many ways we can use that legislation as a means
evaluate how much give anti-choice legislators have and where they may
have it. Will anti-choice Democrats support revisions that would guarantee
medically accurate counseling at those Life Support Centers?  The
bill also seeks to codify the regulation that extends coverage under
the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to both low-income
pregnant women and unborn children, which is an attempt to create independent
rights in law for a fetus.  Will anti-choice Democrats support
revisions eliminating that measure to preserve the life of the bill? 

A glimpse of the future may
be found in the recent negotiations over the stimulus bill.  While conservative
"blue dog" Democrats rebelled against the economic stimulus package
, moderate Republicans broke ranks with
their party
to
join Democrats in Congress and pass President Obama’s stimulus package. 
Party loyalty took a back seat to prudent policy. Compromises were made
just as with any piece of legislation, but the core of the stimulus
package remained and was passed.  The same may hold true for the
Pregnant Women Support Act and other reproductive health care policy
if pro-choice advocates look beyond party affiliation to forge alliances
based on a legislator’s commitment to common sense reproductive health
policy.  Compromises will have to be made, but only time will tell whether
those compromises will be good or bad in the eyes of pro-choice advocates
and if those making the compromises will have a D or and R after their
name. 

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