Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, just won reelection in a state President Trump won by 20 points in 2016. One might think that national party leaders would be falling over themselves to replicate his secret sauce, but the key to Edwards’s victory—his pro-life beliefs—is instead seen as a poison pill by most Democratic elites. Indeed, progressives elsewhere will soon be working hard to defeat longtime Chicago-area Congressman Dan Lipinski because he dares to espouse similar anti-abortion views.
The pro-life Democrat is now an endangered species. The 2020 election cycle may well determine whether Edwards’s triumph in deep red Louisiana is the last of its kind—a bit like how Martha, the last living passenger pigeon until her death in 1914, lingered on for years in a Cincinnati zoo after the rest of her species had gone extinct. At the presidential election level, pro-life Democrats currently have no good options. Former Vice President Joe Biden may be trying to win through the so-called “moderate lane,” but he scrubbed out his last vestiges of moderation on abortion in June when he renounced the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment is a federal budget rider that has long prohibited the use of tax dollars for elective Medicaid abortions. Biden supported the amendment for decades. His flip-flop moved him into agreement with the rest of the Democratic field, a group which (with the exception of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has voiced opposition to some third-trimester abortions) has embraced no abortion limits of any kind.
The Democratic primary electorate is not so extreme, however. A February 2019 Marist poll found that 34 percent of Democrats identified as “pro-life.” A 2018 Pew poll found 21 percent of Democrats saying that abortion should be “illegal in all/most cases.” (That number rises to 38 percent among blacks, a key constituency in the Democratic primary process.) Even in a liberal bastion like New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo lit the Empire State Building pink after signing a bill ensuring abortion rights through all nine months of pregnancy, a Marist poll found that 71 percent of New Yorkers felt that abortion should be banned after 20 weeks unless the life of the mother was at risk. That is not so surprising if one remembers that the right to life movement had its roots in New York, where in the pre-Roe 1970s, Catholic Democrats rallied against the liberal abortion laws championed by Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller.
Today, the progressive political establishment works hard to deny pro-life Democrats any oxygen. The Pro-Life Democratic Candidate PAC was formed to help get a life-affirming voice on the Democratic debate stage. They have rallied at debate sites but received little attention from the mainstream media. ActBlue, a website created to aggregate small donations for Democratic candidates and progressive causes, has barred another group, Democrats for Life, from its platform, seemingly in violation of ActBlue’s own rules. In 2018, progressive luminaries like Senators Bernie Sanders and Kirsten Gillibrand supported Lipinski’s socially liberal primary opponent; pro-abortion groups like NARAL and Emily’s List poured in money; and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee gave Lipinski the back of its hand. Despite all of this, Lipinski prevailed. Instead of getting the hint that pro-life Democrats exist in the crucial Midwest and modifying their message (as former Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly from Indiana has suggested), progressives are simply preparing to come after Lipinski again. In short, the so-called party of the little guy is not making it easy on those within its ranks who want to stand up for the littlest of guys and gals.
Governor Edwards could potentially change the conversation. If he has any presidential ambitions, this is likely the only time he could act on them. A fractured primary means anyone with 20 percent or more behind their candidacy could have a major impact. Should he advance to the general election, President Trump (who unsuccessfully campaigned against Edwards in Louisiana) would be an opponent so unpalpable to social liberals that they would nevertheless vote for a competent pro-lifer. The recent addition of former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and, in all likelihood, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the Democrats’ candidate list suggests that the door has not completely closed. But time is short. The deadline to file in South Carolina is December 4.
South Carolina could be fertile ground for a pro-life candidate. The state has a strong cohort of socially conservative African Americans (a voting bloc key to Edwards’s gubernatorial success) and a growing number of Catholics who might be drawn to one of their own. Edwards, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne, could also benefit from the state’s sizable military presence as well as the lack of any GOP primary, perhaps tempting a few more pro-lifers to vote on the Democratic side. It would be a long shot, but long shots are all that pro-life Democrats have left.
Should the pro-abortion left succeed in ousting Lipinski and then continue establishing its abortion absolutism in the Democratic party platform, 2020 could be the year that pro-life Democrats go the way of the dodo, the passenger pigeon, or the ivory-billed woodpecker (a bird likely extinct but for which ornithologists still sometimes search in the bayous of Louisiana). However, if a pro-life presidential candidate demonstrates some success in the primaries, then maybe pro-life Democrats will get some breathing space. If this happens, the better bird analogy will be to the bald eagle, a species driven to the brink of extinction only to rebound in magnificent fashion.
John Murdock is an attorney and writer living in Boise. The opinions expressed here are solely his own.