For a brief, fleeting moment, the Democrats looked as if they were about to do something very, very smart.
Tom Perez, Democratic Party Chairman, along with Bernie Sanders, endorsed Heath Mello, a pro-life Democrat, for mayor of Omaha.
Sanders, despite having one of the most consistently pro-choice records of anyone in Congress, defended this move, saying, “The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about.”
And he’s right. The Democrats are currently at their weakest point since the 1920s. The Republican Party dominates every level of government across the country, and until we open the big tent and allow room for more ideological diversity, things aren’t going to change. That’s why this endorsement was such a big deal. It seemed like the party was finally starting to come around.
And then Perez buckled.
Under pressure from big money pro-choice special interests like NARAL, Perez went above and beyond to reassert his absolute allegiance to abortion by drawing a line in the sand and demanding ideological purity from any Democrat who hopes to make it to office.
Perez stated that he “fundamentally disagree[s] with Heath Mello’s personal beliefs about women’s reproductive health,” and—after Mello himself released a meager statement saying he’d never restrict a woman’s access to abortion—said he was happy that Mello was now more in line with the Party’s position and that “every candidate who runs as a Democrat should do the same, because every woman should be able to make her own health choices. Period.”
For pro-life Democrats like myself, this wasn’t just disappointing—it was infuriating. We simply cannot afford to define ourselves based on a singular issue, especially one as divisive and alienating as abortion. As stated above, the Republicans have the majority at every level, and they are actively attempting to strip millions of Americans of their health insurance, roll back any progress we’ve made on combating climate change, cut benefits for the poor, and demolish public education.
Yet, in the face of all this, Perez made it abundantly clear that under his leadership, all of these issues, and more, will come second to abortion. “Sorry, middle and lower class Americans. We could have stopped the Republicans from taking your healthcare, but we decided to implement an abortion litmus test instead.”
What’s even more frustrating is our inability to move past this binary of for/against. In doing so, we completely ignore any middle ground where we can actually work together—and there’s a lot of it. For example, you’d be hard pressed to find someone on either side of the debate that wants to see an increase in the abortion rate. So rather than shutting people out, Perez could be inviting pro-life advocates to the table for a discussion on how we can collectively reduce abortions, as well as reduce economic and social stressors that drive women to abort their children in the first place. But he chose to do the opposite. This is the hill he wants the Democrats to die on, and if things don’t change, he just might get his wish.
Despite all of this, there are still some glimmers of hope. Sanders doesn’t seem to be backing down from the idea of working alongside pro-life Democrats. And Nancy Pelosi (known for her strong pro-choice credentials) seems to be in agreement. In a recent Meet the Press interview, Pelosi stated that “of course” you can be pro-life and Democrat, and what really unites the party is our dedication to helping working families. Both understand that purging pro-life Democrats from office means continued Republican rule and sacrificing economic justice in the process. We can only hope that the two of them will pass that message along to Perez and encourage him to build a more inclusive party.
In the meantime, I’ll be working to do the same with my state party, and I highly suggest pro-life Democrats and progressives do the same. Discouraging as all this may be, now is not the time to give up. Now is the time to fight.
Matthew Tyson is a Catholic writer and marketing strategist from Alabama. He is an advocate for pro-life ideology on the Left and a co-founder of The New Pro-Life Movement.