“Can you be a Democrat and the support of the Democratic Party if you are pro-life?” Chuck Todd asked Nancy Pelosi on Meet the Press in late April. In that moment the air turned thin in my lungs. Chuck Todd was asking if I was allowed to be a Democrat.
It took Pelosi less than a second to respond to the question: “Of course. Of course. I have served many years in Congress with members who have not shared my very positive — my family would say aggressive — position on promoting a woman’s right to choose.”
I exhaled. My body calmed. Nancy Pelosi, the spokesperson for the party, says I’m allowed to be a Democrat. I love my party, I love what Democrats stand for. I love the warm embrace of fighting together with other members of the party.
It’s not often that I feel accepted by my party. In fact, the best way I’ve found to live as a pro-life Democrat is just to avoid the topic. Most of the people I’m surrounded by in liberal, cosmopolitan Seattle are progressives, so once people know how I feel about abortion, they want to “help me” — meaning fix me. Then there’s the lack of acceptance among my Christian community. I’ve been in the middle of a conversation with a conservative Christian friend where he just stops, mid-sentence, and says, “we really need to talk about you voting for Democrats.”
Pelosi then proceeds to talk about how “it’s our values that unify Democrats.” I want to hug Nancy Pelosi, I want to cry on her shoulder. I post Nancy Pelosi’s interview on Facebook. It’s not well-received. My wall rapidly descends into bitterness, name-calling, other people fighting over whether I am allowed to be a Democrat.
I just watch in horror, and remember why I don’t post about abortion. I search the media for voices who champion Pelosi’s call for unity. I find none: Mostly it’s just conservative sites mocking Pelosi as a hypocrite. I begin to wonder if the detractors are right. Is there no place for me in the American political conversation?
To me, being progressive and being pro-life are one and the same
First, it needs to be understood that my view on politics is rooted in my faith. One core principle of that Christian faith is that every human is an eternal being who was created with purpose, by a reasoning mind. You and I aren’t random. A creator looked at the world and designed each of us with a purpose to do something in this world: that includes my children, my co-workers, a homeless woman next to me on the bus, a bike mechanic in a tiny village in Uganda. We all have purpose. I also don’t think Christianity has a monopoly on that idea; I have agnostic and even atheistic friends who agree with parts of this.
Because of that core belief about humanity:
- I support socialized health care: My child is no more important than your child, and my job has zero relevance on my value to society. My needs shouldn’t supersede yours, and in fact, as a Christian I should put your needs first.
- I’m pro-Black Lives Matter and do my best to support the racially oppressed. Growing up in Baltimore, I remember how I was treated by cops or store employees when I was with a black friend instead of alone. I’m also well aware of the statistics that show people of color being unfairly targeted. My Christian faith teaches me how unjust this is.
- I support feminism. When we oppress women, we are missing out on a wide range of skills and talents that I believe were gifted with a purpose.
- I’m anti-war. I want to shout loudly on the horror of civilian casualties and human lives cheapened through the devices of war.
- I believe in taking steps to alter climate change. There is a clear human cost here that is concerning, and I trust in the overwhelming number of scientists who tell me climate change is happening.
There are other issues where I fall in line with progressives, such as international diplomacy, foreign aid, gun control, and the death penalty.
It’s clear from these views that I’m a Democrat. But when it comes to abortion, things get more complicated.
To me, the abortion argument is about an ethical line we draw in pregnancy between pre-human and human life. Where exactly we each draw that line where things get fuzzy.
Many people who have faith in the divine believe humans have a soul, and many of those people ascribe a soul very early in the process, conception being most common. But I really believe it comes down to that pesky line. The problem is, there is very little hope either side is going to prove their line is drawn at precisely the right moment. I don’t know when a human gains a soul. I have some ideas based on my faith, but I can’t tell you for certain. So in my case, because I don’t know, I’ve decided to err on the side of life.
A pro-choice person might argue that the focus should be on the woman, her choice, and the government’s intervention in that personal choice. As a man, I’ve never personally been thrust into those hard decisions, but I’ve heard tough stories from women brave enough to share them.
But as unscientific as this might seem, I believe that the collection of cells formed at conception is a person. What I see in the unborn and in all of us is a soul, a purposed creation, a divine eternal being, more valuable than the entire US military budget. I’m not asking you to accept that premise, but if we could just begin to understand why we disagree, and find some respect for each other’s perspective, it could be a first step.
I’m hoping you can see that the reason I am pro-life is also the reason I am a Democrat. But in 2017, there is little room for nuance in politics. I feel like I am constantly prodded by both my Democratic and pro-life friends to see “whose team I’m really on.”
It’s isolating being a pro-life democrat
Every year, the partisanship seems to get worse, and I feel more alone and tired grappling with my political identity. It feels like complex views that break from the party are acceptable for other topics — you can break with your party on support for a minimum wage, or supporting or opposing the surveillance state.
I often feel that the labels themselves, “life” and “choice,” exacerbate these divisions. Too often, I hear someone say "I am pro-life" and the response they get is "You mean anti-choice" and then they start arguing over the labels, rather than ever really talking about what we believe in or what we have in common.
Many of my Democrat friends like to taunt pro-life people on their social media feeds. “If they are pro-life why aren’t they supporting health care,” they’ll post, or “If they are so pro-life, how come they support the death penalty?” Whenever I see one of these posts, I want to shout through the screen to my friend: “I’m right over here!”
I also feel isolated within the Christian community for being a Democrat. It was particularly potent during the 2016 election. When the Access Hollywood tape came out in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, I saw members of my church defending Trump. It felt eerily similar to how I felt when the backlash to the Pelosi and Sanders comments happened.
I am the only Christian on a great many of my friends' Facebook feeds, and I am also the only Democrat on a great many other Facebook feeds. What I see is a need to stop taunting pro-life people. I believe there are politicians who are afraid of the people uniting on these issues because if we did, we could make radical progressive change.
I know some pro-life women who voted democratic for the first time in 2016. These newly minted pro-life liberal women desperately wanted to be part of the Women’s March in January, but didn’t go. I believe the Women’s March would have included them, but I understand that the organizers didn’t want to come across as if they were supporting something they did not. But these friends didn’t want to march with pro-life signs or cause arguments. They just wanted to go lock arms with their sisters and feel united. Instead they stayed home, feeling very alone.
Despite this, I still think that pro-life people have a place in the progressive movement
As a pro-life Democrat, I don’t support overturning Roe v. Wade or criminalizing abortions. Generally I believe forcing morality onto a public via law doesn’t work well. Laws can’t change hearts. In fact, they usually calcify them.
Within the Democratic Party I support initiatives that slow down the rate of abortion, and maybe over time soften some hearts to be just a little more open to a pro-life stance. In the Democratic chorus of “safe, legal and rare,” I try to be the voice of rare. Many of my pro-choice friends have told me they feel the same way.
So, I support reform and growth in foster and adoption programs and substantial support for single mothers and those who choose to adopt. I support better sex education programs and access to contraception and any other preventative measures. Legalized abortion helps create economic equality and freedom for women, particularly the most disadvantaged women — it’s important to me to find solutions for this that don’t involve abortion, like free daycare and offering the best maternity and paternity support in the world.
I’m hoping that one day Americans decide abortion has created enough social division, and we invest the resources to find a different way. I like to imagine a world where every conceived child can come to term. Where this issue is obsolete and we look back on this time as being trapped between bad decisions, so we used an expanded social safety net and advances in science to rise above it. Maybe it’s impossible, but I’d at least like to try and find out.
In the meantime, if you are a Democrat, know that I stand with you, and if you are pro-life know that I hear you, and if you are a pro-life Democrat, please know, you are not, in fact, alone. Speak out, be heard, don’t be afraid.
Patrick Day grew up in Baltimore before moving to Seattle where he is currently part-owner of a small business. He spent a year volunteering with a vocational school in Central Uganda, with which he and his wife stay actively involved. Patrick attends Soma Church in Issaquah, Washington.