The Democrats Have an Abortion Problem

Ostensibly pro-life Democrats Bob Casey and Tim Kaine could cost the Democrats the Senate

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Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine speaks to reporters outside WTOP radio in Washington, Tuesday, July 29, 2008, after he was quizzed about reports that he is under serious consideration to be Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's running mate.

Pro-life Democrats are a dying breed. This has been a problem for the party, which still depends on extraordinary good will, particularly among Catholics, to win state and local elections.

Abortion, like same-sex marriage, is one of those "settled" issues for Catholics, meaning there is no dispute about the official church position, which is to oppose both. Therefore, when the Democrats do find a candidate for federal office they can label as "pro-life," it is an occasion for rejoicing—even though they realize it won't make much of a difference in how that candidate votes once elected on important or close issues at the end of the day.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

It's also a problem when those candidates, because they are so few and far between, go back on their word or change positions. Pro-life activists are, for example, less than thrilled with the record compiled by Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, Jr., who, while heir to his father's reputation as a pro-life leader has basically renounced his birthright during the six years he has spent in the United States Senate. It's the same in Virginia, where former Gov. Tim Kaine is locked in a tight race with former Sen. George Allen.

Kaine, who served one term as governor and was President Barack Obama's choice to be chairman of the Democratic National Committee, had been winning plaudits for his adherence to the teachings of the Catholic Church and had won the support of the small but influential group Democrats for Life of America.

Now the group has changed its mind. According to, after it was pointed out that Kaine speaks on his own web site of his strong support for "the right of women to make their own health and reproductive decisions and, for that reason, will oppose efforts to weaken or subvert the basic holding of Roe v. Wade" and that he doesn't support "criminalizing women's reproductive decisions," the DFLA rescinded its endorsement.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the Catholic contraception controversy.]

"Former DNC Chairman and Governor Tim Kaine has been a friend to DFLA and has previously defined himself as a pro-life Democrat," the DFLA said in a statement that cited several of his pro-life accomplishments as Virginia's chief executive, including signing the "Choose Life" license plate bill. "His spokesman and website are now identifying him as a pro-choice Democrat," the group continued, and "therefore, cannot endorse Governor Kaine."

The narrowing of the abortion debate between the two parties has been a gift to the Republicans, whose views generally are more in line with the sentiments of the American people—particularly the church-going population—than the Democrats. Indeed among single issues voters—those who base their votes solely on whether a candidate for federal office supports or opposes legal abortion, the pro-life crowd has a slim but significant advantage. In a state like Virginia, where both the presidential race and the Senate campaign are deadlocked—and have been since the summer—those votes may make the difference between winning and losing. Perhaps its time for the Democrats to rethink their position on abortion just as they have been forced to rethink their position on guns: In regular America, outside the cities and their suburban enclaves, their current positions are electoral losers.

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