Did an out-of-touch abortion stance cause Democrats to lose the Senate?

In the wake of momentous losses for U.S. Democrats on Election Day Nov. 4, one group said the party’s abortion stance may be isolating voters and hindering candidates on both sides of the issue.

“It was a rough election cycle for pro-life Democrats, largely due to our own party position on abortion,” Democrats for Life executive director Kristen Day told Catholic News Agency.

“In pro-life states and districts, Democrats, and particularly pro-life women, have a hard time pulling the lever for a candidate who is associated with a party that not only supports abortion but actively campaigns against providing any reasonable restrictions on a ‘medical procedure’ that takes a life,” Day explained in a press release.

Noting that 21 million Democrats identify as pro-life, Day said that the party’s inflexible stance on the issue is too extreme for most members of the party.

“A large majority of Democrats support reasonable restrictions on abortion. We are alienating a whole new generation of pro-life Democrats.”

Democrats were trounced at the polls as Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate, expanded their control of the House, and won the governor’s mansion in blue states like Maryland, Illinois and Massachusetts. Of the eight Democratic candidates endorsed by Democrats for Life, only two won their elections, both incumbent congressmen.

Day said that the Democratic Party’s rigid emphasis on abortion hurt the party overall—both those who adhere to the party’s platform and those who object to it.

In some cases, a singular focus on abortion came across as desperate to voters, she said, pointing to incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Udall’s loss in Colorado after attacking his opponent’s (Congressman Cory Gardner) pro-life stance so heavily that he earned the local nickname “Mark Uterus.”

“He made his whole campaign about abortion,” Day said of Udall.

Democratic Texas governor candidate Wendy Davis also made abortion a focal point of her run for office. She lost the election and failed to gain the women’s vote in the state. Similarly, abortion activist Sandra Fluke, who gained public attention by advocating for employer-funded contraception, lost her bid for California state Senate by a 20-point margin.

Day also pointed to Maine, where the Democratic congressional candidate Emily Cain “made abortion the foundation of her campaign” and “lost in a Democratic-leaning district that was in Democratic hands since 1995.”

However, Day suggested that the Democratic Party’s “out of touch” platform on abortion harmed not only those candidates who agree with it, but hampered the efforts of pro-life Democrats as well.

In West Virginia, Democratic governor Earl Ray Tomblin—who has previously described himself as “pro-life”—vetoed a Democratic-led effort to pass a late-term abortion ban.

Day thought this helped torpedo the re-election chances of House Rep. Nick Rahall, whom she had endorsed.

She said that Rahall lost in a “guilt by association” race, in which Republicans were able to make the argument that “you cannot trust pro-life Democrats in West Virginia.”

“That just provided everything the Republicans needed to attack pro-life Democrats and say this was their plan all along, they never wanted a 20-week ban,” Day explained.

Democrats must become a big-tent party on life issues to have any hope of re-taking the House and Senate, Day insisted.

“First of all, we need to change the platform,” she said. “We have to have a more inclusive platform and say pro-life Democrats are welcome.”

“At least we need to take steps to not carry NARAL’s water anymore,” she added. “We are a big tent party that wants to help all those who need assistance, all the vulnerable. We need to help the hungry, help the disabled—our traditional values. And the unborn child is part of that. And that’s what our party should be. And we’re not doing a good job.”

Two Democratic incumbents with strong pro-life records did succeed in the election. Dan Lipinski of Illinois and Collin Peterson of Minnesota were easily re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Both had been endorsed by Democrats for Life and are known for supporting pro-life legislation.

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash