“The Democratic Party has a power vacuum, and the core concern is that the party would errantly move away from a commitment to women’s human rights as it tries to rebuild,” Erin Matson, a former vice president of the National Organization for Women and self-described reproductive-rights activist based in Virginia, said in an interview.
Democratic leaders, for their part, have repeatedly affirmed both the platform and the party’s pro-choice ethos. But some activists want more than that. They want the party to tell its 2018 candidates that they must uphold the pro-choice policy agenda embedded in the platform if elected—and they believe the party should withhold support from any candidate who isn’t willing to do that.
“The Democratic Party has and will always include people who don’t personally believe that abortion is an option for them or their families. But the Democratic Party should draw the line on supporting legislators or candidates who seek to impose their personal views on their constituents and the country,” Sasha Bruce, NARAL’s senior vice president for campaigns and strategies, told me in June, after DNC Chair Tom Perez met with a group of pro-life Democrats in Washington. Tensions over how far party leaders will go to welcome, or reject, pro-life Democrats have simmered since Trump’s election, boiling over in April over a mayoral race in Nebraska and again last week with the latest controversy over whether the party should have a litmus test.
The fact that the 2016 platform calls for an end to the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortion in most cases, and the Helms Amendment, which restricts the use of U.S. foreign aid for abortion, is a sign of the influence pro-choice activists wield within the Democratic Party. The election of more pro-life Democrats to the House, however, might make it harder to enact that agenda into law.
“We were excited to see the repeal of the Hyde Amendment included as part of a political party platform, and to go from that to now seeing the Democratic Party trying to appeal to people who support anti-abortion restrictions is a huge concern for us,” Yamani Hernandez, the executive director of the National Network of Abortion Funds, a non-partisan organization that advocates for abortion access, said in an interview. “It’s surprising, and disappointing.”
Responding to the backlash, the DCCC has emphasized that its mission is to win back the House precisely so that Democrats can legislate on the party platform. “Protecting a woman’s health care, her right to choose, and her economic security are fundamental tenets of the Democratic Party, and as long as Republicans control Congress and the White House those values are constantly at risk,” DCCC spokeswoman Meredith Kelly said in a statement.
Any talk of general-election matchups is largely hypothetical, with the midterms more than a year away. The DCCC doesn’t typically make endorsements or provide financial backing in primaries, and Kelly emphasized that “primary voters and local groups will ask candidates where they stand on the issues and select their nominees.” However, that doesn’t mean the committee is hands-off until then: It has already started recruiting candidates that it hopes will run in 2018—people who, according to Kelly, “are authentic and represent the values of the party.” A DCCC aide added that the committee “is not proactively looking for candidates with poor records on choice and abortion rights.”