Party pariahs

National | Pro-life Democrats go national in their fight to protect the littlest "little guys" of all

Issue: "Power struggle," May 26, 2001

At the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, an unusual volunteer slipped fliers to any banner-waving, Gore-cheering delegate who would take one. The fliers publicized a reception honoring the late Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, a Democrat who had been dropped from the 1992 convention program because of his pro-life views. As the volunteer worked his way through the cheering crowd, a Democrat edged over and whispered a secret in his ear: "I'm pro-life, too!" In the political party dominated by abortion cheerleaders like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.), the conventioneer's whispered confession is growing louder. A 1999 Gallup Poll revealed that about one in three registered Democrats holds pro-life views. State-level Democrat pro-life groups, such as Texas Democrats for Life, cling to the party fringe. But now one Democratic group is going national to voice its support for the rights of the unborn. Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), a policy group for pro-life Democrats, has so far organized in five states-California, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, and Maryland-and is incubating more chapters nationwide. The group's mission: "to mobilize grassroots Democrats ... elect pro-life Democrats ... support [elected] pro-life Democrats, promote a pro-life plank in the Democratic Party platform, [and] achieve legislation that protects unborn human life." Lois Kerschen, an active Democrat since she was 9 years old, co-founded the group in 1999. Ms. Kerschen, with experience as an officer for Young Democrats of Texas and a precinct chair, joined Texas Democrats for Life (TxDfL) in 1991, the year it was founded, and later served as president. But her experience as a pro-life fish in a pro-abortion pond (including repeated rebuffs to her attempts as TxDfL president to meet with Texas Democratic party chair Molly Beth Malcolm) convinced her that a national Democratic pro-life group was needed. Now she and likeminded party members are telling fellow Dems, "You can be a pro-life Democrat. You're not alone and you need to speak up." Jim Thornton is speaking up in Maryland. A self-described "lifelong liberal" who worked for every Democratic administration since John F. Kennedy's, Mr. Thornton sees DFLA as a way to take back his party from those who "chose to pursue 'freedom of choice,' and in the process abandoned the most helpless members of the human race." Mr. Thornton says Democrats embraced abortion for political expedience only and then intimidated dissidents: "I'm ashamed of my party." Active in Maryland's DFLA chapter, Mr. Thornton stays busy meeting with congressional leaders, trying to hammer chinks in the pro-abortion armor worn by many Beltway Democrats. A variety of motivations drives DFLA's activists. Some cleave to the scientific argument that life begins at conception. Others, like Ohio DFLA board member Patrick McGervey, hold firm religious convictions: "God creates us in His image." Most DFLA members are loyal liberals who believe in government solutions-gun control, universal health care, gay rights, etc.-to social injustice. It's only on the issue of the unborn that DFLA members follow a road taken by few of their party brethren-even if it is a road pocked with prejudice. DFLA members say pro-abortion Democrats routinely snub them. At the 2000 convention, some delegates crumpled DFLA literature and hurled it back in the faces of volunteers. And though convention organizers promised DFLA president Lois Kerschen that the group's reception honoring Governor Casey-an outspoken Democratic abortion opponent who died in May 2000-would be listed on the official schedule of events, it was not. DFLA members also encounter state-level opposition. In Ohio, where voters have dispatched four pro-life Democrats to Congress and 10 to their statehouse, DFLA member Rob Beasley has worked to organize a chapter at Ohio State University and to establish ties with the Ohio Democratic Party. He said he received more help from the secular state school than from the thoroughly secularized state party. "From [the party], I got some nice-sounding snub about recognizing my right to free speech and respecting my right to have a differing point of view," Mr. Beasley said. "But since my views were in such a minority, [party leaders] said they could not help." Despite rough going, DFLA members hope that if they build this organization, pro-life Democrats will come. "If we Democrats like to be seen as champion of the little guy," explained Illinois chapter member Jay Ware, "we should defend the littlest guys of all-the unborn."

-Janet Maxim is a freelance writer in Germantown, Md.

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