(CNSNews.com) – “Being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Saturday, in the clearest repudiation yet by a major 2020 presidential candidate of voters who support the Democratic Party and hold pro-life views.
“Is there such a thing as a pro-life Democrat, in your vision of the party?” MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle asked Sanders at a presidential forum in Concord, N.H. on Saturday focused on the federal judiciary.
“I think being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat,” replied Sanders, an independent from Vermont running for the Democratic nomination.
Sanders allowed that he may be wrong on the numbers, but said he thinks that “in the Senate probably 95 percent of the Democrats are pro-choice – you have a few who are not,” In the House the percentage who hold those positions may even be greater, he added.
“So that’s kind of what my view is. I think by this time in history, I think when we talk about what a Democrat is, I think being pro-choice is essentially – is an essential part of that.”
Pro-Life Democrats of America hit back on Twitter: “Pretty rich for a political Independent to tell millions of Democrats we don’t qualify.”
Reaction also came from Princeton University jurisprudence professor Robert George.
“Here’s Bernie Sanders officially excommunicating pro-life Democrats,” tweeted George, a former chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. “So: if you’re pro-life you are unacceptable, unwanted, an intruder. Time to go elsewhere.”
Sanders in his reply referred to “a few” Senate Democrats who were not “pro-choice.”
In 2018, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (W.V.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.) and Bob Casey (Pa.), voted with Republicans in favor of a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It failed. Donnelly lost his seat in Nov. 2018.
‘Language that basically says that we don’t belong’
Gallup polls found 29 percent of Democrats self-identified as prolife in 2019. That’s up four points since the previous year, although until 2013 at least 30 percent of Democrats were calling themselves pro-life.
Language on abortion in the Democratic party platform has become significantly more liberal over recent decades, and the document to be unveiled at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee, Wisc. in July is expected to continue that trend.
At a Fox News town hall in Iowa a fortnight ago, Pro-Life Democrats executive director Kristen Day asked former South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg if he would support “more moderate” language in the Democratic platform, “to ensure that the party of diversity and inclusion really does include everybody.”
“Do you want the support of pro-life Democrats – pro-life Democratic voters?” Day asked. “There are about 21 million of us.”
Buttigieg replied, “Well, I respect where you’re coming from, and I hope to earn your vote. But I’m not going to try to earn your vote by tricking you. I am pro-choice. And I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision.”
Day then referred again to her party’s platform which, she said, “contains language that basically says that we don’t belong, we have no part in the party, because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months, the government should pay for it. And there’s nothing that says that people that have diversity of views on this issue should be included in the party.”
Buttigieg said that he supports “the position of my party – that this kind of medical care needs to be available to everyone.”
In 1980, the Democratic platform voiced support for Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, but acknowledged that many hold other views.
“We fully recognize the religious and ethical concerns which many Americans have about abortion. We also recognize the belief of many Americans that a woman has a right to choose whether and when to have a child.”
The 1984 platform contained no reference to abortion, and in 1988 the document said, “the fundamental right of reproductive choice should be guaranteed regardless of ability to pay.” The word “abortion” did not appear.
Four years later, the Democratic platform said, “The goal of our nation must be to make abortion less necessary, not more difficult or more dangerous.”
That formulation was tweaked slightly in 1996 and 2000, saying, “Our goal is to make abortion less necessary and more rare, not more difficult and more dangerous.”
The 2004 platform said abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” but the word “rare” was dropped in 2008, 2012 and 2016, when the platforms said abortion should be “safe and legal.”
The 2016 platform also for the first time endorsed the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is endangered.
The rest of the Democratic field
Former Vice President Joe Biden last summer came under fire from 2020 rivals after his campaign said he still supports the Hyde Amendment. Twenty-four hours later Biden said he had changed his position, and now supports its repeal.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who wore a pink Planned Parenthood scarf to President Trump’s inauguration in 2017, said last December she would wear it again “when I’m sworn as president of the United States.”
Of the five sitting lawmakers still in the 2020 Democratic presidential race – Sanders, Warren, Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) – all earned 100 percent scores from NARAL Pro-Choice America in 2018. Scores were tallied from lawmakers’ votes for or against three House measures, and15 Senate measures and confirmations.
Planned Parenthood notes that the remaining declared candidates – former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, billionaire businessman Tom Steyer, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang – all support “abortion access.”