Pro-abortion interest groups are spending millions of dollars this primary season to purge some of the last remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress.
In Illinois and Texas, incumbent Democratic congressmen are facing well-funded primary challengers backed by pro-abortion groups. EMILY's List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, which usually focus on opposing Republicans, have this cycle targeted pro-life House Democrats Henry Cuellar (Texas) and Dan Lipinski (Ill.), two of the four remaining pro-life members of the Democratic caucus. The groups have thrown their weight behind Jessica Cisneros and Marie Newman, two progressives running primary campaigns against the incumbents as pro-abortion alternatives.
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"I'm running to unseat an anti-abortion congressman," Newman wrote in a Teen Vogue piece on her campaign. "Congressmen like Dan Lipinski stand in the way of the change that my community and our country are asking for."
As the last pro-life House Democrats face tough reelection campaigns, the party as a whole has become increasingly hostile to pro-life views. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.), the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination, said earlier this month that "being pro-choice is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat." Just about a week earlier his primary rival Pete Buttigieg, speaking at a Fox News town hall, similarly was unwilling to tell a pro-life Democrat she was welcome in the party.
Kristen Day, who runs a group promoting pro-life views in the Democratic Party, was the audience member who confronted Buttigieg on the issue during the town hall. She told the Free Beacon that pro-abortion interest groups are pushing the Democratic leadership in the "wrong direction" by alienating pro-life voters like her.
"We don't have a candidate who is representing us," Day said. "I've met so many people who are leaving the Democratic Party because of this extreme position."
Cisneros and Newman have secured endorsements from three of the country's largest pro-abortion groups—EMILY's List, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Texas Forward, a PAC linked to EMILY's List, spent roughly $1.2 million on ad campaigns supporting Cisneros since it launched in December. Meanwhile, NARAL spent $210,000 toward online and digital ads supporting Newman. NARAL previously spent $1.27 million in Newman's failed bid to oust Lipinski in 2018. The expenditures by the two pro-abortion groups are the largest in each race.
Cisneros has raised roughly $28,000 from individuals, PACs, and conduit PACs associated with pro-abortion groups like the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Newman, meanwhile, has collected more than $80,000 from the same sources. Neither Cisneros nor Newman responded to interview requests for this story.
Day said the well-funded pro-abortion groups are "strong-arming" pro-life Democrats like Cuellar and Lipinski out of the ranks in Congress, and also using the promise of campaign contributions to push members further to the left on the issue.
"The abortion lobbyists raised a ton of money and are really strong-arming people," Day said, positing that some Democratic members are even being pushed to vote against their own values on the issue.
"There are pro-life Democrats in Congress right now who don't vote to protect life," she said. "So I really commend people like Henry Cuellar and Dan Lipinski … for standing up for their beliefs because they're not getting any political benefit from doing it. They're doing it because they know the truth—they know that life begins in the womb."
If Cuellar and Lipinski lose their primaries, only two pro-life members would remain in the Democratic caucus. Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), another pro-life Democrat, is considering retirement this year. If Peterson resigns, Utah representative Ben McAdams would be the only pro-life Democrat in Congress in 2021, down from an all-time high of 135 in the 1970s.
More than two-in-five Democrats still want to restrict abortion to the first three months of pregnancy, according to a Marist poll. A Gallup poll found that only 39 percent of Democrats believe abortion should be available "under any circumstances."
Both Cisneros and Newman have out-raised their incumbent rivals in recent months. They received high-profile endorsements from progressives like presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Each is also endorsed by Justice Democrats, the group that engineered the surprise primary victory of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.) in 2018.
Despite their challengers' recent fundraising edge, Cuellar and Lipinski still have more cash on hand to spend in the last weeks before the election. Cisneros and Newman's pro-abortion stance might also prove to be a vulnerability.
Cuellar and Cisneros are facing off in a district that includes Laredo, Texas, a city with large Christian and Hispanic populations, who tend to be more pro-life than other minority groups, according to the Public Religion Research Institute. Cuellar says his challengers don’t understand the voters in the district.
"I’ve been polling and my district is more moderate, conservative Democrats, and I think an outside group that thinks that they know South Texas politics better than I do are going to find [that] out," Cuellar said last month.
Ultimately, Day believes that the party's decision to embrace a radical pro-abortion stance will hurt it come November.
"Everyone's hell-bent on beating Donald Trump this time around. But you gotta have a big tent coalition," Day said. "I'm hearing a lot of pro-life Democrats saying that they're just going to stay home."