PHILADELPHIA (CNS) – At a time when the official party platform advocates for removing current legislative restrictions on obtaining abortions, pro-life Democrats came to Philadelphia with a counter message: You can't win big without us.
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has called for repealing the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funding for most abortions and continues to be included in many federal appropriations bills for abortions. Her stance has been endorsed in the party platform, which also calls for eliminating the Helms Amendment, which prohibits U.S. foreign aid from being used to fund abortion-related activities.
But Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, notes that since 2008, when President Barack Obama launched his first term, the party has lost 11 governorships, 30 state chambers, 69 house seats, 13 seats in the U.S. Senate and 912 seats in state legislatures.
While the pro-life Democrats agree with 99 percent of their party's views on issues like paid maternity leave and a living wage, Ms. Day said the Democrats have become a party of the Northeast and the West.
"We've got to open up the big tent," she said in an interview with Catholic News Service. "Voters want to come back to the Democratic Party, but the party platform and the extreme positions we have been taking prevent them from doing so."
Ms. Day has been buoyed by a recent Dallas gathering of approximately 500 women who identify as pro-life feminists. "We think we are doing this alone but we have this whole network of women out there," she said. "A lot of them (are) doing this work on the ground to provide the support we are talking about. They know what women want and what we women need. We're the fourth wave of feminism, and we are pro-life."
As the Democratic National Convention played out at Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center, she said she had some revealing, encouraging conversations while sitting at the Democrats for Life table in a bustling hallway at the city's convention center.
"So many of those who think they are pro-choice are actually pro-life," she told CNS July 27.
Christian Matozzo, a Temple University student who describes himself as a "dedicated pro-life Democrat from Philadelphia," said he had some positive and some "tougher" conversations at the convention. "I enjoy the dialogue. It's been great to promote the message that we do exist in great numbers, and that we are not being represented by the party."
The stumbling block for many, he said, is that many equate the pro-life cause with a lack of compassion and concern for helping women facing unplanned pregnancies.
"I vehemently disagree with that," Mr. Matozzo said. "I want to provide for women as much as they do, but I don't feel that you need to abort an unborn child to do so."
At a reception honoring Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Catholic, who is the only Democratic governor in the South, for his support of the pro-life cause, Day underlined that idea from the podium: "We choose the mother. We choose the child. We choose both."
Matt Tuman, an organization volunteer who has helped update the Democrats for Life website and aided with research projects, is hopeful that the supporters of keeping abortion legal and the pro-life advocates in his party can find common ground and reduce the number of abortions by advocating for paid maternity leave, a 20-week ban on abortions and Medicaid expansion to help the economically disadvantaged.
He agrees with Ms. Day that the party's hardening stance on abortion has contributed to its loss of electoral clout.
"When we don't have pro-life Democrats in the House, we can't hold the House" he said. "There are a lot of pro-life areas out there in the deep South, where pro-life Democrats have a better opportunity to win (those seats.)"
Ms. Day and Gov. Edwards, who said that his Catholic Christian faith informs his views, both argued that pro-life beliefs aren't limited to abortion.
"There is a difference between being anti-abortion and pro-life," said the governor in accepting the Governor Casey Whole Life Leadership Award. Rejecting the label of "liberal" or "conservative," Edwards suggested that people listen to what he has to say, and make up their own minds.
He noted that with the party's embrace of such an outspoken supporter of legal abortion like Emily's List president Stephanie Schriock – who addressed the convention July 27 – the prospects for pro-life Democrats could dim. Ms. Schriock's organization focuses on electing "pro-choice" Democratic women to office.
"It's going to be increasingly difficult to navigate these waters if the party doesn't moderate" Gov. Edwards said.
"I almost started to cry when he spoke," said Ms. Day. "We've needed an outspoken leader like this.'
She characterizes Louisiana as her new favorite state "ground zero" in progress made in reclaiming ground lost to supporters of legal abortion.
Louisiana state Rep. Katrina Jackson, who introduced Gov. Edwards as a friend and colleague, said that while many of her colleagues acknowledge that a fetus is a human being, they emphasize what will happen to children after they are born.
"The majority of those I meet aren't as concerned about promoting abortion as they are concerned about how the child will live out its life. But everything is connected," Ms. Jackson said.
While the role of faith in shaping her decisions is "overarching," she said, she has found that other Democrats have many different reasons for being pro-life.
Many of those at the meeting where Gov. Edwards was honored represented younger voters, including a Life Matters group from Pittsburgh. "According to statistics, ours is the most pro-life generation," said Aimee Miller, a young adult with that group, "but also the most secular generation."
In conversations they had with attendees at the convention, her group's members found most people were genuinely interested and respectful, she told CatholicPhilly.com, the news website of the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
As the DNC neared its close July 28, Day reflected on what she had gleaned from days of interacting with delegates and visitors.
"We're right. Our position is right, and it's given me so much encouragement," she said. "The platform was discouraging and I felt the party went too far, but being here, and finding that more people agree with me than not has given me more encouragement to keep fighting the fight. People are cheering for us and saying, keep it up.
"We're bringing the Democratic Party back to its roots to protect all living beings."
Lou Baldwin contributed to this story.