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Activists Confront Anti-Choice Democrat—and the ‘Big Tent’

Christine Grimaldi

“We gave him an opportunity to denounce anti-abortion terrorism. He did not take it,” said Erin Matson of Reproaction, describing the group's exchange with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Reproductive justice advocates on Tuesday intended to deliver a letter to the Capitol Hill office of Sen. Joe Manchin over the anti-choice Democrat’s recent meeting with the architect of a discredited smear campaign against Planned Parenthood.

“We ask that you apologize for meeting with David Daleiden, that you denounce his ‘work’ and the anti-abortion terrorism that it has spawned, and that you commit to not meet with anti-abortion terrorists in the future,” Erin Matson and Pamela Merritt, co-founders and co-directors of Reproaction, said in their letter.

The 11 activists who walked into Hart Senate Office Building that morning were able to ask Manchin those questions in person after spotting, and following, the West Virginia senator as he walked out.

The activists captured the face-to-face meeting in a Facebook Live video that showed Manchin’s hasty responses as he hurried to the Capitol building. But what he had to say didn’t satisfy the group.

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“We gave him an opportunity to denounce anti-abortion terrorism. He did not take it,” Matson, a Rewire contributor, said in a phone interview.

Manchin didn’t apologize for his meeting with Daleiden, nor “offer any sort of nuance about what he’d done.” Manchin last week told Rewire that Daleiden was “explaining” the allegations discredited by three Republican-led congressional committee investigations, 13 states, and a Texas grand jury. Daleiden faces 15 felony charges for his role in the heavily edited Center for Medical Progress videos that spurred alleged Planned Parenthood shooter Robert Louis Dear Jr., to kill three and wound nine at the Colorado Springs affiliate in late 2015. Daleiden worked closely with Republican legislators in CMP’s years-long smear campaign against Planned Parenthood. 

Manchin didn’t seem to understand that meeting with Daleiden could legitimize someone “who spawns anti-abortion terrorism,” Matson and Merritt wrote in their letter.

“When someone is so clearly willing to manipulate information and commit fraud to achieve their goal, it is foolish to believe anything they claim to be fact.”

Manchin told the group that he “meets with anyone who wants to have a meeting and invited us to come to his office some other time to have a further conversation,” Matson said.

“So, we’re going to take him up on that.”

And it’s just the beginning as Democratic Party leaders, both on and off the Hill, are extending an olive branch to anti-choice candidates, lawmakers, and organizations.

“Reproaction, as well as reproductive health, rights, and justice activists around the country, are pissed about what the left is doing on abortion,” Matson said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who campaigned on a progressive platform during his 2016 quest for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Democratic National Committee (DNC) Vice Chair Rep. Keith Ellison (MN) last month appeared with an anti-choice Democratic mayoral candidate during a fractious unity tour. The backlash forced DNC Chair Tom Perez to call on “every Democrat” to support abortion rights, even as he agreed to meet with the junk science proponents of Democrats for Life of America.

The party’s chief in the U.S. House of Representatives, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), nevertheless said that entry into the fold doesn’t require support for abortion rights. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) invoked the “big tent” argument in an appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“People should be aware that we are organizing on the ground. This is not just about social media or saying things in the press,” Matson said.

“Our leadership within the broader progressive movement is going to be held accountable. And if we have to go confront people who have better voting records than Joe Manchin on the issue of abortion and reproductive health care but are saying unhelpful things that cause people to question whether or not support for women’s human rights exists within the left—if that continues, we will do actions like this with other people.”

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