Cover Story

Life is not a party

Abortion under the modern Democratic Party is supposed to be safe, legal, and rare, and the lonely pro-life Democrat has the same theoretical status: It's safe and legal to be one, but he is indeed rare. But is this good for the pro-life cause? Opposition to abortion has become a de facto "Republican" issue, but if there is to be an America that again respects life, must pro-life sentiment again be bipartisan? Against long political odds, some candidates are trying to make that happen.

Issue: "Life is not a party," Oct. 3, 1998

in Scranton, Pa. - If it's Saturday, it must be a church picnic. That's how Pat Casey differentiates the unending blur of summer campaign appearances. Union halls, factories, schools, retirement homes-it all starts to run together after a while. But in heavily Catholic Scranton, Pa., one thing is clear and predictable: Somewhere in town on any given Saturday, some church will be having its parish festival. And Pat Casey will be there. On this muggy summer night, Nativity Parish is taking its turn. "If I don't get elected, at least I'll be an expert on church picnics," Mr. Casey mumbles good-naturedly as he wades into the crowd to press the flesh. The boyish-looking 32-year-old tries to shake hands like a grown-up, but many of the older women in the crowd insist on hugging and even kissing him. Men pump his hand a little too long. Mothers insist on introducing every child in the family; if one is missing, an older brother or sister is quickly sent in search of the prodigal, while there's still time. Clearly, this isn't the normal reception for a neophyte would-be politician. But Mr. Casey is something of a legend, even in his first run for public office. His father, Bob Casey, was a wildly popular two-term governor who hailed from Scranton and became one of the most outspoken pro-life Democrats in the country. In 1992, the elder Casey waged a high-profile war with Democratic bosses over his desire to speak at the party's national convention. With Bill Clinton fervently courting women voters and realizing that pro-life women were lost to him anyway, no dissent on the abortion issue was allowed, and Bob Casey was effectively shut out. It was a slap in the face that some voters back home never forgot. "On the abortion issue, he stepped out and went with his convictions," says Jeff Carpenetti, who's attending the fair with his wife, Lori, and two young daughters. Lori Carpenetti worked for a losing candidate in the Republican congressional primary, but she plans to cross party lines and vote for Mr. Casey in November. "I hope if he is elected he has the same stuff his dad had," she says. Mr. Casey is doing all he can to show that he does indeed have his father's stuff. He announced his candidacy for the 10th congressional district at his parents' home because, he said, it was the place where he "learned the values that make families strong and government good." He went on to enumerate the values his father taught him-hard work, independence, honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, compassion, and love-and promised that they would be the guiding principles in his political life. But nothing, he insists, is more important than the value of life. "If I'm elected to Congress, I'm going to do everything I can to help move the country in the direction of being more pro-life," he told WORLD back at his cluttered campaign headquarters after the parish festival. "That issue is really the foundation for all the other issues we're talking about. Everybody wants to have lower taxes, everybody wants to have a good education system, everybody wants to have a good healthcare system. But I think the foundation for all that is respect for human life." Such a strong pro-life position is winning support not only from Catholic Democrats, but also from people like the Carpenettis, who describe themselves as both Republican and evangelical. Like many others, they want to see the pro-life issue become a truly bipartisan affair, with respect for the unborn serving as a foundation for views that may legitimately diverge on a host of other issues. Those crossover voters could well return this seat to the Democrats for the first time in 36 years-a historic shift in a year when President Clinton's moral troubles may push dozens of seats in the opposite direction. But not everyone is sure that the pro-life movement can be truly bipartisan anytime soon. With the Democratic leadership proving itself over the years to be almost a wholly owned subsidiary of the abortion industry, some pro-lifers wonder if even a stalwart like Pat Casey might ultimately cost the lives of some babies. Mr. Casey knows that national pro-life groups will be a harder sell than perhaps the voters in his backyard. Still, he's frustrated by the fact that his pro-life position is not enough to win an endorsement from groups such as the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). "They tend to support Republicans more than Democrats," he says with a sly smile, as if to emphasize the understatement. Indeed, Darla St. Martin, NRLC's co-executive director, couldn't name a single Democrat her organization had endorsed for one of the 35 open seats being contested in November. But she insists that has nothing to do with partisanship. Rather, she said, endorsements are based on voting record (in the case of incumbents) and questionnaires (in the case of challengers or open seats). Critics charge that system helps moderate Republicans avoid an embarrassing endorsement of their Democrat opponents. By simply answering a few questions correctly, GOP candidates know they can keep pro-life groups on the sidelines, with the excuse that "both candidates are pro-life." But sometimes such Republicans can prove to be unreliable allies once elected to Congress, according to a prominent pro-life lobbyist whose job requires that she not be quoted on the record. They may vote with pro-lifers on big, prominent issues that turn up on national scorecards, then abandon the movement on more obscure, but still important, matters. More often, she says, moderates will "throw their weight around procedurally," refusing to support the so-called "rule votes" that bring bills to the House floor. For instance, the lobbyist says, moderate Republicans are currently blocking a vote on the Labor/HHS appropriations bill because it includes a parental notification amendment. Thanks to such behind-the-scenes defections among Republicans, pro-life Democrats become absolutely crucial on close votes. The veteran lobbyist says she counts on 30 to 45 Democrats to cross party lines in support of the unborn, and that without their help, "pretty much every vote we've won" would have gone the other way. Pat Casey insists he'll be one of those votes, but he can't convince NRLC that he's the more passionately pro-life candidate in the race. Mrs. St. Martin replies that passion is not enough. "If you just say passion is the standard, they may have a beautiful ability to speak rhetorically. I've been in this business for a long time, and that doesn't necessarily tell you how they'll vote," she says. "I think it's more effective to do a questionnaire.... We ask for a yes or a no on very specific issues." Did Pat Casey not answer those questions well enough to merit an endorsement? When WORLD asked for a copy of Mr. Casey's completed questionnaire better to evaluate his pro-life position, Mrs. St. Martin demurred, saying the forms were not a matter of public record. But the Casey campaign did provide a facsimile copy of the candidate's completed NRLC questionnaire, and he seemed as orthodox on paper as in person. On 17 out of 20 questionnaire items, Mr. Casey vowed to support NRLC's stated position-including the controversial issue of outlawing abortion even in cases of rape and incest. "Although rape and incest are horrible, horrible situations," he says, "I think we should do all we can to punish the perpetrators of the rape or the incest, and not punish the unborn child. They had nothing to do with that. They're the innocent victim, if they're taken by abortion." The only three items that he marked "undecided" dealt with the relatively tangential (and completely hypothetical) issue of Medicare restructuring, which NRLC believes might lead to a denial of lifesaving medical care for older Americans. Mr. Casey's Republican opponent, Don Sherwood, also shared his questionnaire responses with WORLD. He too agreed with the NRLC position on 17 out of 20 items, but his areas of disagreement appeared to have a more direct and immediate bearing on loss of life. Mr. Sherwood, for instance, would allow a baby to be aborted if it were conceived in a case of rape or incest. He also would vote to allow public Medicaid funds to be used as payment for rape/incest abortions, and he would not vote to prohibit doctors from prescribing controlled substances to aid in assisted suicide or euthanasia. Mr. Sherwood notes that his position agrees with Pennsylvania Right to Life, which also would allow rape and incest exceptions. He's met twice with NRLC officials in Washington, and "talked about the fact that a pro-life Republican is in much better shape to further the cause than a pro-life Democrat." Carol Long, director of NRLC's political action committee, confirms that she and Mr. Sherwood did discuss the issue of party leadership, but says that is not the reason NRLC is not making an endorsement. "That's not a race we would get into anyway," she says. "We are fair to every candidate individually. Our members want to see us get into races like Carol Moseley-Braun and Peter Fitzgerald [running for the Senate from Illinois], rather than spend our resources in a campaign with two pro-life candidates." Back home, Mr. Sherwood is pushing the same message he pushed in Washington. "If you elect enough Democrats the balance of power will change," he warns. "The pro-life movement is in much safer hands with the Republicans in control.... The issue here is, if I go to Washington I will be in the majority, pro-life party. Should my opponent go to Washington, even though he's pro-life, he'll have to fight his party constantly because they'll always be pulling against him on this issue." WORLD's congressional source agrees with that assessment, up to a point. "It's hard for pro-life groups to look at individual candidates without thinking about how that's going to strengthen the leadership of a party that's generally pro-abortion. While the Republicans may not be at all times doing the best job, they generally have helped us, while Democratic leaders generally will actively work against us." How, exactly, would Mr. Casey work against his party's leadership in that regard? Given that Democrats when they controlled the House of Representatives were unwilling even to schedule votes on pro-life bills, would a Rep. Casey demand that the Democratic candidate for Speaker of the House commit to such scheduling? And if the House were almost evenly divided after the 1998 elections, would he vote for the Republican candidate for Speaker, if that would increase pro-life prospects? Mr. Casey seems a bit nonplussed by the questions. "As far as procedural votes and specific things like that, I honestly don't know," he says, pointing out that he hasn't held elective office before. "But I promise you this: Once I get there I'm going to find out how it's done and then do what I can." Some pro-life activists stress that true bipartisanship is a virtue in any case. "Anybody that votes Republican every time, regardless of principle, is a single-issue voter," says Kelly Walton, president of the Idaho Christian Coalition. "I think it's disingenuous: If you say you're for principle, but you vote party every time, you're either living in an awfully conservative state with really good candidates, or you're being hypocritical." Mr. Walton has special reason to have thought about the issue: In his eastern Idaho congressional district, pro-life Democrat Richard Stallings is in a statistical dead heat with moderate Republican Mike Simpson. Despite some high-profile betrayals of the pro-life movement during his years as Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives, Mr. Simpson has managed to keep national groups like NRLC from endorsing his avowedly pro-life challenger. On his questionnaire, for instance, Mr. Simpson said he would vote to ban abortion except in cases of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. But according to Mr. Walton, back in 1990, Mr. Simpson was the only legislator in eastern Idaho to vote against a bill that would have done exactly that at the state level. To Mr. Walton, groups like NRLC "definitely give away clout" if weak Republicans know they won't be challenged. But Mrs. St. Martin insists that NRLC's questionnaire method forces even weak Republicans to the right on the pro-life issue by securing their written promise to vote in favor of life on 20 specific issues. By combining a candidate's questionnaire responses with any voting record he may have, NRLC says it can make endorsement decisions on an individual basis with no partisan calculations, "because that's the fair thing to do." For his part, Pat Casey vows to keep championing the cause of the unborn within the Democratic Party. Eventually, he says, the doubters will be proved wrong and everyone will have to admit that the pro-life cause is bigger than either political party. He finds encouragement in the example of his father, who took more than his share of lumps before becoming a legend. "Now, even people who are pro-choice respect him for his position. And it's a good lesson: At the end of the day, they don't remember you for the building you put up or the bridge you put up or whether you left office with a budget surplus. When you're at the end of your cycle, they remember you for being a decent guy, for your integrity. That's all you've got."

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