The head of a national organization backing Democrats who restrict abortion access grilled Pete Buttigieg during Sunday’s Fox News town hall in Iowa, asking him why the Democratic Party wouldn’t backtrack on its commitment to reproductive rights.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), did not identify herself as a longtime advocate for anti-choice causes or as the head of the country’s most prominent anti-choice Democratic group when she was called on to ask the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana a question during the town hall, though a Fox News graphic included her affiliation. Day asked Buttigieg if he wanted support from “people like me”—self-identified Democrats who oppose abortion rights.
“I’m not going to try to earn your vote by tricking you,” Buttigieg said to audience applause. “I am pro-choice, and I believe that a woman ought to be able to make that decision. The best I can offer is that if we can’t agree on where to draw the line, the next best thing we can do is agree on who should draw the line, and in my view, it’s the woman who’s faced with that decision in her own life.”
DFLA is an anti-choice organization with a mission of electing anti-choice Democrats. At its inaugural conference in 2018, Democrats for Life hosted an anti-choice smear campaign to damage Planned Parenthood’s reputation. One of the conference’s sponsors, the discredited group Live Action, coordinated with congressional Republicans in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood. Another anti-choice activist who spoke at the DFLA conference has accused Planned Parenthood of genocide.
Day told Rewire.News in 2018 that she was “trying to close Planned Parenthood down.”
During Sunday’s town hall, Day wondered why the Democratic Party wouldn’t go back to its 1996 platform, which she described as, “We understand that people have very differing views on this issue but we are a big tent party that includes everybody and therefore we welcome you—people like me—into the party so we can work on issues that we agree on.”
Buttigieg said he would stand by the Democratic Party’s defense of abortion rights amid an escalation of anti-choice attacks at the state level, including in Iowa, designed to overturn the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
“I support the position of my party, that this kind of medical care needs to be available to everyone, and I support the Roe v. Wade framework that holds that early in pregnancy there are very few restrictions and late in pregnancy there are very few exceptions,” he said.
In its 1996 platform, the Democratic Party described itself as “a party of inclusion. We respect the individual conscience of each American on this difficult issue, and we welcome all our members to participate at every level of our party. Our goal is to make abortion less necessary and more rare, not more difficult and more dangerous.”
The platform called on people in the United States “to take personal responsibility to meet” the goal of reducing unintended pregnancies.
It’s a far cry from the Democratic Party’s 2016 platform, which for the first time called for the repeal of the discriminatory Hyde Amendment and said “that every woman should have access to quality reproductive health care services, including safe and legal abortion—regardless of where she lives, how much money she makes, or how she is insured.”
Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, responded to Day’s town hall question with a series of tweets, including one pointing to a Kaiser Family Foundation study showing 94 percent of self-identified Democrats believe “decisions about abortions should be made by women in consultation with their doctors.”
Democratic candidates who participate in Fox News town halls, Hogue said, run the risk of facing bad-faith questions designed to put pro-choice advocates on defense while advancing the anti-choice agenda.
“Fox tries to set our candidates up when they appear there, using straw men arguments, falsehoods, and dishonest brokers to wield abortion as a weapon for an agenda that is just about control and reproductive oppression. That’s why, some candidates have chosen not to go on Fox,” Hogue tweeted Sunday night. “Even if you beat the system, you validate it. And there is real danger in that.”
Over the two decades between the 1996 and 2016 party platforms, anti-choice congressional Democrats have become a rarity as Republicans have committed not just to restricting abortion, but also to ending legal abortion across the country. The few anti-choice Democrats who remain in power today—like Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who signed a near-total abortion ban in 2019—have the support of Democrats For Life. The GOP-held Louisiana legislature, with help from Democratic lawmakers, has passed a host of abortion restrictions in recent years. And anti-choice Democrats in states like Rhode Island held back pro-choice legislation for years.
With the state Democratic caucus one week away, Buttigieg has tried to close the gap in Iowa. He’s polling at 22 percent in the state, trailing U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden at 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively, CBS reported Sunday. Following Sunday’s Iowa town hall, the Buttigieg campaign released his final ad that will air in Iowa through Monday.