The Last Blue Dogs: Local Democrats Call on Party To Save Hyde

Democratic activists, state pols decry abortion lobby's influence

The 2021 Democrats for Life of America conference Image via Twitter @demsforlife
August 9, 2021

COLUMBUS, Ohio—The annual Planned Parenthood gala is the mecca of liberal elitism. In any given year, one can find Meryl Streep, Scarlett Johansson, and Sarah Silverman rubbing elbows with Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and other members of the Democratic Party's power center, as they raise money for the nation's largest abortion provider. They will gather at midtown Manhattan's "premier event venue"—capacity 1,200 people—and then file to the exits for an afterparty hosted by a star of the show Queer Eye. Questlove will DJ. Vogue will provide fawning coverage.

In Columbus, Ohio, three dozen people gather to figure out how to battle the juggernaut of Hollywood and Washington, D.C., elite. They convene at the Democrats for Life of America conference in July to rally behind the Hyde Amendment even as their partymates in Washington attempt to revoke the nearly five-decade-old bipartisan agreement that bans taxpayer funds from paying for abortion. There are no celebrities in attendance; the closest the group comes is Katrina Jackson, a black state senator in Louisiana, who has achieved a modicum of notoriety for her impassioned pro-life politics. She is furious that the party of the little guy is abandoning longstanding popular legislation to enrich Big Abortion.

"I don’t understand how the Hyde Amendment became an issue," Jackson told the Washington Free Beacon. "You [congressional Democrats] want to fund a billion-dollar industry? When you do that, where are you going to cut from?"

House Democrats passed spending bills in July that force taxpayer dollars to fund abortions both domestically and globally. Critics of Hyde and similar protections argue that taxpayer dollars are needed to ensure minorities can afford abortions. Jackson said the abortion lobby is using radicalized rhetoric to provide cover for its own financial interests—ending the taxpayer firewall could provide hundreds of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood and other abortion clinics.

"It’s insulting as an African American that they say it’s racist not to fund abortions," Jackson said. "We got a plethora of issues in the African community that we need to deal with—abortion funding is not one of them."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) is the only Democrat in the Senate to openly support the Hyde Amendment. President Joe Biden had supported Hyde as a senator but flipped his position on the presidential campaign trail and is pushing Congress to remove the protection.

Pro-life Democrats lost two key voices in the House this past election cycle, leaving little debate within the party on removing these protections. Dan Lipinski (Ill.) was ousted in his 2020 primary and Collin Peterson (Minn.) lost in the 2020 general election. Lipinski told the Free Beacon he could tell in recent years that he was becoming more of an outsider in his party. He said he had a feeling the end was near once party leaders began endorsing his opponent, as the abortion lobby continued to advocate against his campaign.

"There was no way that I was going to change what I believe and what I stood for—I have no regrets whatsoever," Lipinski said. "For me, as a Catholic Christian, I believe that I have to answer when I die for the way I live my life. I know at least on this that I stood for what I believe was right: protecting the most vulnerable."

Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats For Life of America, said there are two main reasons pro-life Democrats are becoming increasingly rare in Washington. The obvious reason is the party itself, which rejects pro-life views. The more subtle reason is the abortion lobby’s financial involvement in elections, which she said played a significant role in Lipinski’s loss.

"It’s tricky to run as a pro-life Democrat because you don’t want that to become the issue," Day said of Democratic primary struggles. "The pro-life side just doesn’t have the money to fight."

The Susan B. Anthony List, a pro-life group, spent $45,000 to boost Lipinski’s campaign. Pro-choice groups spent more than $1 million on a single ad campaign targeting Lipinski. Planned Parenthood’s super PAC alone spent $45 million on candidates in 2020.

Democratic leaders and donors appear to have put an end to pro-life views within their party in the House. Sixty-four Democrats voted for the Stupak Amendment in 2009, which applied the Hyde Amendment to the Affordable Health Care Act but was later scrapped in the Senate. Twelve years later, there was little to no resistance from House Democrats on removing the Hyde Amendment or even the Helms Amendment, which prevents taxpayer dollars from funding abortion globally.

"Even though the pro-life Democrat is almost extinct in Congress, you can continue to build seats at the local level and work towards the day the party is more accepting of pro-life candidates," Lipinski told the Free Beacon.

There are pro-life Democrats at the state level that thrive despite rejecting abortion lobby money. Angie Hatton, a state legislator in Kentucky, won her district in 2016 as a pro-life Democrat even as her state party lost 17 seats and Donald Trump won the state with ease. Hatton, who serves as the Democratic minority whip, attributed her political success to prioritizing her constituents rather than her party’s D.C. leadership.

"My party doesn’t seem to tolerate anything outside of the most progressive view on every issue," Hatton told the Free Beacon. "I believe that there are shades of blue and that there is room for a big tent Democratic Party."

The Democratic Party's bid to eliminate Hyde and oppose limits on late-term abortion is at odds with the American people and a sizable chunk of its base. A January Marist poll found that 58 percent of respondents oppose using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. Polling data show that roughly a quarter of Democrats identify as pro-life. Russell Ott, a pro-life Democratic legislator in South Carolina, found himself at the center of the divide between his party and his constituents in February. Democrats stormed out of the statehouse in protest of a fetal heartbeat bill. Ott, the assistant minority leader, did not participate. He, along with one other Democrat, stayed on the floor and voted to pass the bill.

"I think a lot of times now we have parties making decisions then dragging along elected officials to those camps—and that’s not the way it’s supposed to work," Ott told the Free Beacon.

Hatton, Jackson, and Ott said Democrats have a unique role in the pro-life movement because they advocate for programs and funding that minimize circumstances where some believe abortion to be necessary. Specific examples include policies such as paid paternity leave, increased contraception access, adoption reforms, higher minimum wage, and increased health care access and education funding.

"We need to stop dealing with the false notion that we should legislate morality to the point where everyone believes what we believe," Jackson said. "People have different reasons for the decisions they make and we have to give their child a true chance at the American dream."