Anti-abortion Democrats wonder about their place in the party

PHILADELPHIA — They are Democrats opposed to abortion. And they say the party won't win races down the ballot without embracing them.

"The first thing everyone asks is: I can't vote for a Democrat because I'm pro-life," said Jonathan Ruth, a Democrat from an overwhelmingly GOP district in north central Pennsylvania who ran for a state house seat in 2014. "If we can get the word out that there are Democrats that are pro-life, that's a good thing."

Ruth and others at a reception Wednesday said they are disappointed that the party's platform came out stronger than ever in support of abortion rights. They are also frustrated that the vice presidential nominee opposes abortion personally but appears to have changed his view on federal funding.

"I'm a public school teacher and a foster parent, and I see the ramifications of (Republicans) when they say they're pro-life, but then they oppose all the programs that help the kids after they're born," Ruth said.

"We want to see abortion be more rare. When we see good economic policy, there tends to be less need for abortion, and we need to be concerned about mothers, too, and not even needing to make that choice if they don't have to," he said.

The decision by the Democratic National Convention delegates to embrace ending the ban on taxpayer funding of abortion services set the wrong tone, said Sterling Miller, a recent college graduate and anti-abortion Democrat from central Pennsylvania.

"The platform they just adopted is the most extreme that we've ever seen, at least as far as I know," Miller said. "I think that that signals that pro-life Democrats aren't really welcome, which is really troubling."

Ruth and Miller were among the attendees at a small reception in Center City honoring Louisiana's Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards with an award named for former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr., the father of the state's current senior senator, who was known for his anti-abortion stance.

Speaking before the awards presentation, Democrats for Life America Executive Director Kristen Day said that James Zogby, known better for his role as president of the Arab American Institute, was the only advocate they had on the DNC platform committee.

Reached by phone, Zogby said he viewed the decision to reject his proposal to say that Democrats have differences of opinion on the abortion policy question is a bad signal and a "declaration of intent."

"I also think it indicates a kind of tone-deafness and insularity to where most Democrats are," Zogby said.

"It almost makes it look like the default position is an abortion. That's not where the Democratic Party is," he added. "I asked them to consider putting in some language for diverse views and respect for the big tent."

But many Democrats who support abortion rights take a conciliatory view toward the anti-abortion minority.

In a race against Donald Trump, they reasoned, Democrats need all the help they can get.

"I don't think you can leave behind any part of the party, especially this year," said Linda Kasskekert, a 58-year-old New Jersey resident.

Her friend Nancy Callahan, 55, suggested that of all of the speakers at a convention, at least one could give voice to the party's anti-abortion wing.

"I think it's good to have an open discussion," she said.

Both women were attending a celebratory reception hosted by EMILY's List in Center City Philadelphia, an event that drew a packed house Wednesday.

Not everyone there was gung-ho about giving a voice to Democrats who oppose abortion rights, however.

"Every voice has a place, but that's not the party view," said Janet, a native of a suburb north of Philadelphia who declined to give her last name while waiting in line to enter the EMILY's List event.

The politics of abortion have shifted for Democratic candidates, too. Deborah Ross, the party's nominee in heavily evangelical North Carolina, didn't mince words when asked if she embraced overturning the Hyde Amendment.

"Of course!" said Ross, who has credited EMILY's List with getting her campaign off the ground. "If there wasn't an EMILY's List, I wouldn't be here right now," she told Roll Call in March. Day said that she was troubled by reports of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's running mate Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., switching his position on the Hyde amendment.

Kaine has long been personally against abortion, but with a voting record in the Senate on the side of abortion rights groups like Planned Parenthood. Kaine has long expressed support for the Hyde language being included in federal spending bills.

"I need to talk to him," Day said. "You know, if you believe in the sanctity of life, you may still think that women should have the choice, and you may vote that way, but you know as far as when you get to taxpayer funding of abortion, that's just something that's really repulsive."