In the Democratic Party, abortion absolutism is now de rigueur.
The party abandoned the pretense of “safe, legal, and rare” long ago. Among self-proclaimed centrists, too, there is a growing hostility toward any law that would restrict access to abortion, no matter how modestly.
There is just as much hostility toward any voter who suggests such laws might be necessary. It is not enough to support abortion. A true Democrat must also put pro-life voters in their place. Recently, Pete Buttigieg flatly stated that pro-life voters don’t fit in the Democratic Party. He joins many other prominent Democrats, such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in essentially telling pro-lifers that Democrats don't want their support at all.
Perhaps that’s why Alabama Sen. Doug Jones felt comfortable laughing off a constituent’s question about whether abortion “should be banned after five months.” Jones’s response? “What a stupid question.”
Jones represents one of the most pro-life states in the country, in which more than half of the electorate supports abortion restrictions and Republican lawmakers regularly pass pro-life policies such as the one described. Jones is also scheduled to vote next week on the pro-life bill he so casually dismissed. Does he think himself above answering constituents' questions about his positions on the issues?
Jones is up for reelection this year. His chances at winning a full term are pretty slim, but, until now, we thought he was at least trying to make inroads with centrist Republicans and independents, two groups of voters he managed to win during Alabama’s special election in 2017. Apparently, he is completely unconcerned with what these voters think about abortion.
Jones is supposed to be one of the centrists in the Democratic Party, but, when it comes to abortion, he’s no different from any other Democrat. He voted against a ban on abortions after 20 weeks in 2018. In January, he voted against a bill that would prohibit the use of taxpayer money to fund abortions. He has also called his state’s strict abortion ban, which is currently being challenged in court, “shameful” and “callous.”
This says a lot about Jones’s moderation (or the lack thereof), but it also reveals something important about the Democratic Party: On abortion, there is no room for dissent. The choice is simple: Support abortion on demand through all nine months of pregnancy and even beyond or lose the support of your party.
Believe it or not, the Democratic Party did not always support abortion so enthusiastically. In fact, Democrats led the charge against liberalized state abortion laws before the mid-1970s, according to historian Daniel Williams.
Nationally, too, Democrats were hesitant to welcome pro-choice advocates into their ranks. In 1972, one of the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination was a Catholic senator who advocated for the “sanctity” of life. That same year, the Democratic Party soundly rejected an attempt to include abortion rights in its platform.
Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pro-life Democrat at all, let alone one who will proudly wear that label. If anything, mildly pro-life Democratic voters will treat their opposition to abortion as a private, personal preference, as Jones attempted to do back in 2017. The problem with this excuse, made popular by the late Mario Cuomo, is that abortion is not about private beliefs. It’s a question of politics and human rights, about whether the government should prioritize human life or an adult's convenience.
At least now, politicians such as Jones have to be honest about which one they value.