Home  |  About Us  |  Contacts  |  Products    
 News Items:
 News Briefs
 Word To Life
 Other Items:
 Client Area
 CNS Stylebook
 Did You Know...

 The whole CNS  public Web site  headlines, briefs  stories, etc,  represents less  than one percent  of the daily news  report.

 Get all the news!

 If you would like  more information  about the  Catholic News  Service daily  news report,  please contact  CNS at one of  the following:
 (202) 541-3250


 The CNS news  report may not  be published,  broadcast,  rewritten or  otherwise  distributed,  including but not  limited to such  means as  framing or any  other digital  copying or  distribution  method, in whole  or in part without  the prior written  authority of  Catholic News  Service.
 (c) 2004
 Catholic News
 Conference of
 Catholic Bishops.
 CNS Story:

DEMOCRATS-PROLIFE Jul-28-2004 (1,190 words) Backgrounder. With photos posted July 26 and today. xxxn

Pro-life Democrats describe lonely role, but see improvements

By Patricia Zapor
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Beginning in 1996, the Democratic Party's platform specifically said people who disagree with its support for legal abortion were welcome.

But in the experience of Rep. Bart Stupak, being a pro-life Democrat is a guarantee of ongoing struggles for respect from your own party and even from pro-life allies. And don't bother to expect financial support from those who traditionally fund either Democrats or pro-life candidates.

Through 12 years in Congress representing Michigan's 1st District, Stupak has been one of a few dozen members who keep alive the belief that the words "pro-life" and "Democrat" aren't mutually exclusive terms.

Since he arrived in 1992, Stupak has struggled to avoid isolation by his own party, by others in the pro-life political community and even by the Catholic Church, he told Catholic News Service in a phone interview from the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

It took two years in Congress and his re-election before the Democratic leadership appointed Stupak to the committee he wanted. One of its subcommittees deals with abortion laws and he said he was told, "we're not going to put a pro-life Democrat on it."

"I had to prove myself," he said. "A pro-choice Democrat wouldn't have had to do that."

Things have changed a bit for the better, he believes, as evidenced by a decrease in fellow Democrats' efforts to convince him to change how he votes on abortion.

"I've been here for 12 years and they really don't bother me anymore," he said. But while Stupak recognizes the warmer reception he gets from Democrats is at least partly a matter of political expediency, he thinks his quiet, one-on-one way of lobbying fellow members is having an effect.

"They're beginning to see my view has validity," he said.

The membership of the two-and-a-half-year-old Democrats for Life reflects the same intersecting ideological agreement and political pragmatism, according to Carol Crossed, president.

The group formed to foster respect for life by opposing abortion, capital punishment and euthanasia. Its goals include electing pro-life Democrats and promoting a pro-life plank in the party platform.

"On the one side (of our members) are Democrats who are very concerned their party is not winning," Crossed said. "These are the party analysts, strategists who see this as a sort of strategy."

Other members support pro-life issues as a matter of deeply held principle that demands cooperation across party lines, she said. "They see that unless we elect pro-life Democrats we're not going to pass any pro-life legislation. We're a two-party system and we need support from both parties."

But that raises the problem pro-life candidates have with even getting the money together to run for office.

Since 1990, organizations and individuals describing themselves as "pro-choice" have contributed more than $13.7 million to candidates for federal office, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

For the same period, pro-life individuals and organizations contributed about $4.6 million to federal candidates.

And those figures reflect only a portion of the money tied to views on abortion.

In the elections of 2000 and 2002, Emily's List, a political action committee that funds women candidates who support legal abortion, spent more on federal elections and various other programs than any other political action committee, also called PACs.

The $22 million from Emily's List in 2002 exceeded expenditures by any single labor union, the National Rifle Association or the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, among others. By comparison, the only specifically pro-life organization to hit the top 20 of PAC expenditures was the Pro-Life Campaign Committee, which spent $5.2 million.

Stupak said it's bad enough that so much money is available to candidates who support abortion. But he said he and other pro-life Democrats often can't even get financial support from groups that agree with them.

"Right-to-life groups won't fund us because we're Democrats," he said. Pro-life Democrats are also shunned by groups -- including some labor unions -- that aren't specifically focused on abortion but have strong connections to organizations that are.

In many ways, Stupak said pro-life Democrats are "a group without a party." By his count, 35 House Democrats consistently vote pro-life, and three others do so on most abortion-related issues.

Bill Gluba of Iowa is hoping to join them in January. He's running for Iowa's 1st Congressional District seat. He describes himself as a pro-life, social justice Democrat in the "consistent ethic of life" model espoused by the late Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago. Gluba, a Catholic, has been a member of both the Knights of Columbus and the Sierra Club and has "never voted for a Republican in my life."

"I'll put my progressive credentials up against anyone's," he told CNS, and added that he doesn't think being pro-life is going to hurt his chances among voters who are accustomed to Democratic candidates who favor legal abortion.

In fact, he's expecting a little reciprocity for decades of "swallowing a lot" to cast votes for fellow Democrats who support abortion.

"I think the whole discussion has matured a great deal in the Democratic Party," said Gluba.

He had no complaints about how he's been treated by the Democratic National Committee, which considers his race among its top priorities this year, he said. The party has given him funding, and his Web site prominently features photos of Gluba with prominent Iowa and national Democrats.

Stupak and Crossed also said they sense a shift in attitudes among fellow Democrats.

Crossed said the "anybody but Bush" effort in the presidential race is helping cut down on some of the intra-party feuding that used to take place over abortion. But she also said she's seen pro-life Democrats like Gluba getting an unusual amount of support.

And Stupak is optimistic about how pro-life Democrats would be treated if Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts should be elected president.

Kerry, a fellow Catholic, has a consistent record of opposing legislation to restrict abortion and throughout the presidential campaign has said he would work to keep abortion legal. But Stupak said he's noticed that Kerry "has toned down" on the topic.

Though Stupak's under no illusion that Kerry's views have changed, he thinks "he will be respectful and will listen to us." Compared to the treatment pro-life members of the party have had in the past, he said, "That's probably the best we can hope for."

There's still one group with whom both Gluba and Stupak have had problems that befuddle them -- people who assume every Democratic politician is also a supporter of abortion.

"We have had people send us hate mail," said Gluba, a former state legislator. "I'm not a 'baby-killer.' I'm 100 percent pro-life."

Stupak told of attending a Catholic celebration in Michigan and being introduced to a visiting cardinal as the local Democratic member of Congress.

"He turned his back on me," Stupak said of the cardinal, whom he declined to identify. The priest making the introduction hastened to add for the cardinal's benefit: "He's pro-life, he's one of the good ones."

"The cardinal said, 'There are no good Democrats,'" and refused to shake his hand, Stupak said.


Copyright (c) 2004 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The CNS news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed, including but not limited to such means as framing or any other digital copying or distribution method, in whole or in part without the prior written authority of Catholic News Service.
Questions about this Web site? Send to cns@catholicnews.com.
Copyright © 2004 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
CNS · 3211 Fourth St NE · Washington DC 20017 · 202.541.3250