Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., indicated as much on Friday when she told reporters “you can’t say you’re a Democrat … if you’re against abortion.” Jayapal, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), reportedly called for “strong primary challenges” against candidates who weren’t as bold on that issue.
“I understand that the DCCC [Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee] is funded by — we are a membership organization — it’s funded by our members,” she said, referring to the organization, which funds Democratic candidates around the country.
“And I understand that the DCCC is often going to try to protect the incumbent,” she added. “But I do think we have to look at all of these issues and think about what it means to be a Democrat.”
While it’s unclear how much her views represented those of the committee leadership, she seemed to highlight growing tension over the issue in her party.
Her comments came as Democrats’ position on abortion came under greater scrutiny in the lead-up to 2020. While pro-life Democrats have opposed abortion legislation in prior years, 2019 is reinvigorating debate on the issue and force the party to more explicitly defend its position on the issue. That included support late-term abortion, likely the most controversial abortion procedure in the nation.
The party also spotlighted the issue as Republican legislatures have passed highly restrictive pro-life legislation that Democrats blasted as “extreme.” When Alabama passed a bill on Wednesday banning nearly all abortions, it served as a reminder that Democrats could soon face an end to longstanding protections with an apparently conservative Supreme Court.
While some Democratic leaders have OK’ed being pro-life and Democratic, they’ve also indicated that position would fly in the face of the party’s core principles.
That interparty tension caught more attention after Louisiana’s Democratic governor signaled on Thursday that he would support his state’s “heartbeat” legislation — one of the more restrictive pro-life proposals that Democrats have decried as attacks on women’s rights.
That tension on abortion will likely grow as the nation approaches an expected Supreme Court decision and Democrats push for more abortion funding through the federal government.
Jayapal, for example, received support from one of the most prominent pro-choice organizations — NARAL — after she proposed a “Medicare-for-all” program that would eliminate a law — the Hyde Amendment — which blocks direct federal funding for most abortions.
Many in the 2020 Democratic field have either pushed Hyde’s repeal or advocated more government involvement in a health care system already plagued with concerns about the use of taxpayer money.
The party also saw politicians — like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. — push for legislative protections in case the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Democrats appeared divided on the issue with 60 percent favoring considerable limits on abortion, a Marist poll revealed in January. In that same poll, only 28 percent of Democrats said they thought abortion should be available at any point in the pregnancy.