Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Family-Friendly Policies Benefit Everyone—Even Me

Katie Klabusich

As I was reading The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality In the Workplace, I saw my nontraditional life and needs represented by the policies the author advocates for and realized these are fights I need to be more involved in, for reasons beyond rounding out my reproductive justice advocacy.

I’m not married, I’ve never given birth, and I work for myself—three things I don’t plan to change. Given that, I’m a seemingly unlikely person to advocate for paid family leave and policies that keep women from ending up sidelined into the “mommy track.” As I was reading Ruchika Tulshyan’s new book The Diversity Advantage: Fixing Gender Inequality in the Workplace, however, I saw my nontraditional life and needs represented by the policies the author pushes and realized these are fights I need to be more involved in, for reasons beyond rounding out my reproductive justice advocacy.

I’m fighting for myself.

Tulshyan—a writer with degrees from Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism and the London School of Economics and Political Science—has covered diversity and leadership in business all over the world. So, her approach is focused on outlining for upper management and business owners why intentional diversity and traditionally “woman-oriented” policies like parental leave are actually good for their bottom line.

By the time I’d consumed Chapter 3—“Give Your Employees Flexibility Without Shame”—and Chapter 4—“Reversing the Mommy Track”—I’d realized that all the anti-woman, anti-family, and anti-diversity standards embedded in our current brand of capitalism here in the United States are also inherently ableist, leave zero room for nontraditional dating lives, punish anyone with a uterus who’s of childbearing age, and trickle down to how organizations and contractors treat freelancers. Just because I don’t have a standard job or family doesn’t mean I am not affected by the values of corporate culture.

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Until the new standard becomes respecting employees’ actual lives and providing what they need to live them, I will continue to struggle with negotiating for time off from contracts, calling in sick to myself and those who contract with me, and worrying about aging parents and a sibling-by-choice whose health care will likely fall on me.

And that was just what hit me while I was reading.

I started paying more attention to my own life and stories in the news about pay discrimination, the challenges of balancing work and life, the frequency of employers ignoring the needs of people with nontraditional families. I went back and re-read The Diversity Advantage with new eyes.

The first thing that stood out was how the flexibility originally designed to comply with maternity and family leave would help those of us in the workforce with chronic medical conditions. To keep flex time from being used against those who need or choose to use it, Tulshyan suggests employers implement what she calls “flexibility without shame.” In doing so, policies of all kinds about flex time, working from home, and number of days in a workweek end up benefiting people of all genders and circumstances.

“[W]e have the ability to perform a multitude of tasks with just a portable laptop and steady Internet connection,” Tulshyan explains. “‘Going to work’ could have been largely transformed by the type of technology that exists today. The keyword here is ‘could.’ Unfortunately even many workplaces that offer flexible work policies in theory still penalize employees who are not always in the office.”

As someone with a mental health profile (dysthymia, anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and possible post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosed so far) that requires me to take medication, assess and revise treatment plans, and spend regular business hours at the doctor, a “regular” job is off the table and even my editors and other clients have to be flexible and patient. I have learned to build flex time into my schedule (though, admittedly I don’t always do this successfully). A change in work culture’s expectations would allow me to thrive more fully even as a self-employed person.

The kinds of challenges “returning” parents face are also issues for people with chronic disorders or with family members they care for.

Western Europe countries offer mothers an average of 40.5 paid weeks of leave and Finland allows over three years per child—but having a job waiting for you when you get back isn’t the only guarantee working parents need.

“Even in countries with very generous paid maternity leave—all of the Scandinavian countries, for example—there’s research to show that women suffer in other ways: They lose out on pay, leadership opportunities and even access to professional networks,” writes Tulshyan. Any activity or required leave that causes a break in active engagement in a field will create similar lags in advancement and missed chances on projects and leads.

Even though the numerous studies and interviews with executives in The Diversity Advantage show that “being able to engage employees fully part time can be much better than engaging them distractedly full time,” anyone who can’t be on board continually is often seen as a less valuable employee or an expendable contractor. Increasingly, though, millennials especially are expecting flexibility. They don’t accept the standard resistance and restrictions on advancement that often come with asking to work flexibly—even in offices and companies that supposedly offer that benefit.

A survey by telecommuting and freelance jobs site FlexJobs found that flexible work arrangements are even better for organizations than the employees. As Tulshyan notes:

82% responded that they would be more loyal to their organizations if they had flexible work options. There are consequences if companies don’t catch on: 39% have turned down a promotion or job or quit over lack of flexibility.

Women in particular have historically been and continue to be affected disproportionately by—and have become less willing to tolerate—a hostile, patriarchal work culture. According to Tulshyan’s research, even though we outpace men in pursuing upper-level degrees, the U.S. female workforce participation has dropped to 69 percent. She explains that if companies want to attract and retain women who increasingly must “balance multiple significant roles,” they’re going to need firm policies that incentivize talent to apply for open positions and stick around.

The only way to effectively implement even baseline paid maternity leave is to make flexibility “a standardized norm,” according to the research and interviews Tulshyan did around the globe. Having incrementally better maternity leave isn’t enough because it creates an inherently unequal situation where those who utilize the leave are punished simply by being absent.

“The key is to have an environment where flexible work arrangements are considered both gender-neutral and an institutionalized part of the culture,” Tulshyan writes, citing executives who continually hear that employees feel judged when they make use of flex-time policies. Those same executives and others charged with human resource development continue to be frustrated because they know the cost-benefit analysis would come out in their favor if their companies took the time to ensure policies were punishment-free.

“Time and again,” she writes, “leaders I’ve interviewed for this book have mentioned the short-term costs of implementing a dedicated flexibility program—money, time, efforts to change culture—as a tradeoff worth making for the long-term benefits of an engaged, loyal and high-performing employee base.”

I certainly know I’m more loyal to the contracts that treat me fairly—it’s a simple math equation for me. I am not in a position to ignore when I’m not paid an appropriate sum or when paying me in a reasonable timeframe is clearly not a priority; when I don’t get paid, I don’t eat.

The attitudes of corporate and “standard” workplace culture roll down to me and even more so to people in service industry and retail jobs. I know from experience, having worked extended periods in both retail and bars/restaurants. Until “skilled” workers are treated well, those of us who freelance and those who work in “unskilled” labor will continue to struggle for fair treatment. Fighting for a higher minimum wage and fair scheduling à la Fight for $15 is a worthwhile endeavor that can trickle up; we should also be fighting for the flexibility and equity policies that trickle down.

That means pushing our candidates and lobbying our legislators, because this country is embarrassingly behind in supporting women, families, parents of any kind, and especially nontraditional families—such as those that include non-primary parents, or shared elder care responsibilities, or anyone who can’t or doesn’t feel the need to be legally bound to their partner(s).

From The Diversity Advantage:

In the U.S., where the majority of the organizations I interviewed for this book are headquartered, paid leave statistics are abysmal. America is the only industrialized country that doesn’t have a government mandate to provide workers with any paid leave. The existing Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 gives only about half of all workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave for birth or medical conditions. In this regard, the U.S. trails far behind nations like Pakistan (12 weeks paid at 100% of salary) and Sundan (eight weeks fully paid).

It gets worse.

In case you haven’t had to look into it or assume that as a supposed international leader on human rights the United States would at least be doing the bare minimum, this country has no paid maternity leave mandated by federal law. And a frustrating few qualify for guaranteed unpaid leave. Your job is protected when you go on your unpaid leave—but only if you’re a full-time employee who has worked at the company for more than a year and only if the company has more than 50 employees. That leaves a disastrous number of workers out in the cold.

Some states have taken it upon themselves to tackle providing paid leave—a necessary provision of a successful governmental policy to ensure small businesses don’t incur budget-busting costs. This partnership model is used by countries all over the world.

As is the case with so many policies and programs that benefit individual workers, paid parental leave is also good for companies of all sizes. Tulshyan quotes the National Partnership for Women & Families on the subject:

In California, which has had a state paid leave program for more than a decade, 83% of workers in ‘lower-quality’ jobs who used the program returned to their previous employer — a 10-point improvement compared to workers who did not use the program.

The good news about our lack of federal law, according to experts Tulshyan interviewed, is that we have a chance to do paid parental leave correctly:

“Because they are so late to the game, I think the U.S. has a unique opportunity to innovate and lead the way on policies to do with working parents,” said Anna Steffeney, a former IT executive and founder of LeaveLogic, a startup that helps companies implement maternity leave benefits.

Essentially, not only can we lobby our legislators for well-crafted law on the subject, but businesses are not beholden to existing shoddy law, so they are free to implement well-constructed policy changes now.

Tulshyan isn’t waiting for Congress and statehouses to get it together; she’s busy explaining to corporations why paid parental leave is good for business.

“To retain and advance the best employees, especially women,” she writes, “organizations must accommodate workers who are—or want to be—parents.”

Here again, I see myself.

I’m polyamorous—which means, ideally, I have more than one romantic partner to whom I’m committed on some level, though not monogamous with. Unlike most of the poly community, however, I describe myself as “solo” because I don’t thrive with an “anchor” partner—the husband/live-in person with whom daily life and logistics are intertwined. Frankly, I don’t want to live with anyone, and my emotional labor intake and output are really well-balanced with the close friends and partners I have; there simply isn’t a need or space for the traditional life partner most people want and need.

While this means I won’t have what most would consider children of “my own”—which is more than fine because I have intentionally been a non-parent for a decade now—I have discovered I’m open to being a non-primary parent in the context of a close partnership. Poly families are not constrained by a standard structure and it’s commonplace for tight-knit groups of three or four (or more!) to either live together (probably not in my case) or close by and share the duties of caring for children, siblings, aging family members, and other loved ones during times of stress or sickness.

That all may sound lovely or weird or overly ambitious depending on your background, but legally speaking it is a great big mess. I don’t have close immediate family and never plan to get married, which means I’ll never have immediate family. My parents pop in and out of my life at the whim of my mother, which means I will likely be charged with their care. But they are the only people on behalf for whom I have any legal right to take family leave. Just because I’m not married and have no blood siblings doesn’t mean I don’t have anyone who relies on me and whom I would want to care for.

Several of the recommendations Tulshyan makes under her subhead, “The Case for Adequate Paid Maternity Leave,” would help more than just mothers.

“Working mothers could cumulatively save $14 billion if companies offered a global return-to-work policy that allows them to work just four days a week, at full pay, for the first six months after they return to work,” writes Tulshyan. And why not extend that—which you’d have to under the gender-neutral, flexibility-without-shame standards—to people pursuing new treatment plans for medical conditions or taking their turn at home with the children they co-parent so a partner can go out of town to care for a sick parent?

The stats Tulshyan quotes from an op-ed at the Wall Street Journal by Google executive Susan Wojcicki (currently CEO of YouTube) would certainly only improve with policies that benefit people like me.

“When Google increased its paid maternity leave to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers left the company dropped by half,” Wojcicki wrote. “It’s much better for Google’s bottom line—to avoid costly turnover, and to retain the valued expertise, skills and perspective of our employees who are mothers. … Best of all, mothers come back to the workforce with new insights. I know from experience that being a mother gave me a broader sense of purpose, more compassion and a better ability to prioritize and get things done efficiently.”

The same would be true for those with other kinds of life experiences. The more diverse your organizational structure and staffing gets, the better your company becomes at catering to a diverse clientele or market.

Here, again, millennials especially are intolerant of organizations without built-in flexibility. In fact, not offering this benefit is increasingly costing companies young talent. I identify completely with the reasoning millennials cite. “[Forty-eight percent] of millennials would avail of paid parental leave when they had children, more than any other previous generation,” writes Tulshyan. “Even if they aren’t planning to ever have children—or any time soon—knowing that they’re working for an inclusive environment that values families is important.”

These values are even more important for someone who does freelance and contract work because I’m already seen as expendable and/or interchangeable too much of the time. I can get “off-ramped” simply because I’m of childbearing age—whether or not I actually want children. Most prospective clients won’t ask; they’ll just go with the male application or proposal so they don’t have to worry about it. But if we had a work culture that neutralized this tendency, I wouldn’t have to screen so hard or be so specific in contract language to ensure any time off—sick time of my own or potential family leave—won’t end or void my contract or lead to it not being renewed.

Tulshyan concludes her chapter on reversing the “mommy track” by turning a current losing situation into a win-win:

[I]t’s devastating that a working mother’s career options and her child’s care can be determined by how progressive her employer is on this issue. … This is an opportunity for employers to differentiate themselves and innovate early to find solutions. It’s good for women, but it’s also great for business.

The most optimistic and far-reaching existing policy about flexibility and paid family leave in The Diversity Advantage is also the simplest, and the one I think should be the new standard. It comes from global technology company SAP’s “best practices policy” and would cover all the imagined and yet to be conceived life challenges:

All employees with a permanent contract, regardless of age or career stage, are eligible for the program for extended absences such as: parental leave for all genders; sabbatical; caring for a relative; sickness.

What a concept: respecting all aspects of the lives of employees, no matter their circumstances. Sign me up!

Commentary Politics

On Immigration, Major Political Parties Can’t Seem to Agree on What’s ‘Un-American’

Tina Vasquez

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Immigration has been one of the country’s most contentious political topics and, not surprisingly, is now a primary focus of this election. But no matter how you feel about the subject, this is a nation of immigrants in search of “el sueño Americano,” as Karla Ortiz reminded us on the first night of the Democratic National Convention (DNC). Ortiz, the 11-year-old daughter of two undocumented parents, appeared in a Hillary Clinton campaign ad earlier this year expressing fear that her parents would be deported. Standing next to her mother on the DNC stage, the young girl told the crowd that she is an American who wants to become a lawyer to help families like hers.

It was a powerful way to kick-start the week, suggesting to viewers Democrats were taking a radically different approach to immigration than the Republican National Convention (RNC). While the RNC made undocumented immigrants the scapegoats for a variety of social ills, from U.S. unemployment to terrorism, the DNC chose to highlight the contributions of immigrants: the U.S. citizen daughter of undocumented parents, the undocumented college graduate, the children of immigrants who went into politics. Yet, even the stories shared at the DNC were too tidy and palatable, focusing on “acceptable” immigrant narratives. There were no mixed-status families discussing their deported parents, for example.

As far as immigration is concerned, neither the Democrats nor Republicans are without their faults, though positions taken at the conventions were clearly more extreme in one case than the other. By the end of two weeks, viewers may not have known whether to blame immigrants for taking their jobs or to befriend their hardworking immigrant neighbors. For the undocumented immigrants watching the conventions, the message, however, was clear: Both parties have a lot of work to do when it comes to humanizing their communities.  

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“No Business Being in This Country”

For context, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his running mate Mike Pence are the decidedly anti-immigrant ticket. From the beginning, Trump’s campaign has been overrun by anti-immigrant rhetoric, from calling Mexicans “rapists” and “killers” to calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. And as of July 24, Trump’s proposed ban now includes people from countries “compromised by terrorism” who will not be allowed to enter the United States, including anyone from France.

So, it should come as no surprise that the first night of the RNC, which had the theme of “Make America Safe Again,” preyed on American fears of the “other.” In this case: undocumented immigrants who, as Julianne Hing wrote for the Nation, “aren’t just drug dealers and rapists anymorenow they’re murderers, too.”

Night one of the RNC featured not one but three speakers whose children were killed by undocumented immigrants. “They’re just three brave representatives of many thousands who have suffered so gravely,” Trump said at the convention. “Of all my travels in this country, nothing has affected me more, nothing even close I have to tell you, than the time I have spent with the mothers and fathers who have lost their children to violence spilling across our borders, which we can solve. We have to solve it.”

Billed as “immigration reform advocates,” grieving parents like Mary Ann Mendoza called her son’s killer, who had resided in the United States for 20 years before the drunk driving accident that ended her police officer son’s life, an “illegal immigrant” who “had no business being in this country.”

It seemed exploitative and felt all too common. Drunk driving deaths are tragically common and have nothing to do with immigration, but it is easier to demonize undocumented immigrants than it is to address the nation’s broken immigration system and the conditions that are separating people from their countries of originconditions to which the United States has contributed. Trump has spent months intentionally and disingenuously pushing narratives that undocumented immigrants are hurting and exploiting the United States, rather than attempting to get to the root of these issues. This was hammered home by Mendoza, who finished her speech saying that we have a system that cares more about “illegals” than Americans, and that a vote for Hillary “puts all of our children’s lives at risk.”

There was also Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a notorious racist whose department made a practice of racially profiling Latinos and was recently found to be in civil contempt of court for “repeatedly and knowingly” disobeying orders to cease policing tactics against Latinos, NPR reported.

Like Mendoza, Arpaio told the RNC crowd that the immigration system “puts the needs of other nations ahead of ours” and that “we are more concerned with the rights of ‘illegal aliens’ and criminals than we are with protecting our own country.” The sheriff asserted that he was at the RNC because he was distinctly qualified to discuss the “dangers of illegal immigration,” as someone who has lived on both sides of the border.

“We have terrorists coming in over our border, infiltrating our communities, and causing massive destruction and mayhem,” Arpaio said. “We have criminals penetrating our weak border security systems and committing serious crimes.”

Broadly, the takeaway from the RNC and the GOP nominee himself is that undocumented immigrants are terrorists who are taking American jobs and lives. “Trump leaned on a tragic story of a young woman’s murder to prop up a generalized depiction of immigrants as menacing, homicidal animals ‘roaming freely to threaten peaceful citizens,’” Hing wrote for the Nation.

When accepting the nomination, Trump highlighted the story of Sarah Root of Nebraska, a 21-year-old who was killed in a drunk-driving accident by a 19-year-old undocumented immigrant.

“To this administration, [the Root family’s] amazing daughter was just one more American life that wasn’t worth protecting,” Trump said. “One more child to sacrifice on the altar of open borders.”

It should be noted that the information related to immigration that Trump provided in his RNC speech, which included the assertion that the federal government enables crime by not deporting more undocumented immigrants (despite deporting more undocumented immigrants than ever before in recent years), came from groups founded by John Tanton, a well-known nativist whom the Southern Poverty Law center referred to as “the racist architect of the modern anti-immigrant movement.”

“The Border Crossed Us”

From the get-go, it seemed the DNC set out to counter the dangerous, anti-immigrant rhetoric pushed at the RNC. Over and over again, Democrats like Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chair Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-CA) hit back hard against Trump, citing him by name and quoting him directly.

“Donald Trump believes that Mexican immigrants are murderers and rapists. But what about my parents, Donald?” Sánchez asked the crowd, standing next to her sister, Rep. Loretta Sánchez (D-CA). “They are the only parents in our nation’s 265-year history to send not one but two daughters to the United States Congress!”

Each speech from a Latino touched on immigration, glossing over the fact that immigration is not just a Latino issue. While the sentiments were positiveillustrating a community that is thriving, and providing a much-needed break from the RNC’s anti-immigrant rhetoricat the core of every speech were messages of assimilation and respectability politics.

Even in gutsier speeches from people like actress Eva Longoria, there was the need to assert that her family is American and that her father is a veteran. The actress said, “My family never crossed a border. The border crossed us.”

Whether intentional or not, the DNC divided immigrants into those who are acceptable, respectable, and worthy of citizenship, and those—invisible at the convention—who are not. “Border crossers” who do not identify as American, who do not learn English, who do not aspire to go to college or become an entrepreneur because basic survival is overwhelming enough, what about them? Do they deserve to be in detention? Do their families deserve to be ripped apart by deportation?

At the convention, Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), a champion of immigration reform, said something seemingly innocuous that snapped into focus the problem with the Democrats’ immigration narrative.

“In her heart, Hillary Clinton’s dream for America is one where immigrants are allowed to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, pay their taxes, and not feel fear that their families are going to be ripped apart,” Gutiérrez said.

The Democratic Party is participating in an all-too-convenient erasure of the progress undocumented people have made through sheer force of will. Immigration has become a leading topic not because there are more people crossing the border (there aren’t) or because nativist Donald Trump decided to run for president, but because a segment of the population has been denied basic rights and has been fighting tooth and nail to save themselves, their families, and their communities.

Immigrants have been coming out of the shadows and as a result, are largely responsible for the few forms of relief undocumented communities now have, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows certain undocumented immigrants who meet specific qualifications to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. And “getting right with the law” is a joke at this point. The problem isn’t that immigrants are failing to adhere to immigration laws; the problem is immigration laws that are notoriously complicated and convoluted, and the system, which is so backlogged with cases that a judge sometimes has just seven minutes to determine an immigrant’s fate.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is also really expensive. There is a cap on how many people can immigrate from any given country in a year, and as Janell Ross explained at the Washington Post:

There are some countries, including Mexico, from where a worker with no special skills or a relative in the United States can apply and wait 23 years, according to the U.S. government’s own data. That’s right: There are people receiving visas right now in Mexico to immigrate to the United States who applied in 1993.

But getting back to Gutierrez’s quote: Undocumented immigrants do pay taxes, though their ability to contribute to our economy should not be the one point on which Democrats hang their hats in order to attract voters. And actually, undocumented people pay a lot of taxes—some $11.6 billion in state and local taxes last year, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy—while rarely benefiting from a majority of federal assistance programs since the administration of President Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we know it” in 1996.

If Democrats were being honest at their convention, we would have heard about their failure to end family detention, and they would have addressed that they too have a history of criminalizing undocumented immigrants.

The 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, enacted under former President Clinton, have had the combined effect of dramatically increasing the number of immigrants in detention and expanding mandatory or indefinite detention of noncitizens ordered to be removed to countries that will not accept them, as the American Civil Liberties Union notes on its site. Clinton also passed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which economically devastated Mexican farmers, leading to their mass migration to the United States in search of work.

In 1990, then-Sen. Joe Biden introduced the Violence Against Women Act, which passed in 1994 and specifically excluded undocumented women for the first 19 of the law’s 22 years, and even now is only helpful if the victim of intimate partner abuse is a child, parent, or current/former spouse of a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident.

In addition, President Obama is called by immigrant rights advocates “deporter in chief,” having put into place a “deportation machine” that has sent more than two million migrants back to their country of origin, more than any president in history. New arrivals to the United States, such as the Central American asylum seekers coming to our border escaping gender-based violence, are treated with the same level of prioritization for removal as threats to our national security. The country’s approach to this humanitarian crisis has been raiding homes in the middle of the night and placing migrants in detention centers, which despite being rife with allegations of human rights abuses, are making private prison corporations millions in revenue.

How Are We Defining “Un-American”?

When writing about the Democratic Party, community organizer Rosa Clemente, the 2008 Green Party vice president candidate, said that she is afraid of Trump, “but not enough to be distracted from what we must do, which is to break the two-party system for good.”

This is an election like we’ve never seen before, and it would be disingenuous to imply that the party advocating for the demise of the undocumented population is on equal footing with the party advocating for the rights of certain immigrants whose narratives it finds acceptable. But this is a country where Republicans loudly—and with no consequence—espouse racist, xenophobic, and nativist beliefs while Democrats publicly voice support of migrants while quietly standing by policies that criminalize undocumented communities and lead to record numbers of deportations.

During two weeks of conventions, both sides declared theirs was the party that encapsulated what America was supposed to be, adhering to morals and values handed down from our forefathers. But ours is a country comprised of stolen land and built by slave labor where today, undocumented immigrants, the population most affected by unjust immigration laws and violent anti-immigrant rhetoric, don’t have the right to vote. It is becoming increasingly hard to tell if that is indeed “un-American” or deeply American.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open the Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Read more of our coverage of the Democratic National Convention here.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

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Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.