Reproductive rights activists say the Democratic Party is throwing them under the bus

The DCCC chairman said Monday there’s no litmus test for being a Democrat. Activists couldn’t disagree more.

Latoya Watson of Washington, with Planned Parenthood, cheers during a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, as the court was hearing arguments in King v. Burwell, a major test of President Barack Obama's health overhaul which, if successful, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Latoya Watson of Washington, with Planned Parenthood, cheers during a rally outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, March 4, 2015, as the court was hearing arguments in King v. Burwell, a major test of President Barack Obama's health overhaul which, if successful, could halt health care premium subsidies in all the states where the federal government runs the insurance marketplaces. CREDIT: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) said Monday that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will not withhold funding from candidates who are anti-abortion rights, a move that is drawing the ire of reproductive justice and abortion activists.

“There is not a litmus test for Democratic candidates,” Luján, the DCCC chairman, said in an interview with The Hill. “As we look at candidates across the country, you need to make sure you have candidates that fit the district, that can win in these districts across America.”

Other high-profile Democrats have taken similar stances on abortion. In April, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) campaigned for an anti-choice mayoral candidate in Nebraska and Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez met with anti-abortion Democrats in May.

Candice Russell, a WeTestify abortion storytelling fellow with the National Network of Abortion Funds, said she felt betrayed by Luján’s comments Monday — especially because she said she distinctly remembers the party sending fundraising emails after the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Supreme Court decision striking down abortion restrictions in Texas.

“You don’t get to ask me for money and turn around and spit in my face,” Russell said. “To think that abortion access isn’t inextricably tied to every single thing the Democratic Party says it stands for is foolish.”

In a statement to ThinkProgress, a DCCC spokesperson emphasized that the organization is “a political committee charged with winning House races, and not in the business of pushing or deciding policy.”

“The DCCC is working to beat House Republicans in an expanded battlefield in 2018, and we do prioritize finding candidates who are authentic, fit a wide variety of districts and connect with those voters,” DCCC Communications Director Meredith Kelly added.

As the the party tries to regain populist ground lost to President Donald Trump, leaders like Luján, Sanders, and Perez have framed abortion and other social issues as separate from economic issues.

“The only way you can say that economic issues are separate from social issues is if you’re presuming the only people affected by economic issues are straight, white, able-bodied men,” Erin Matson, a reproductive rights activist in Virginia, said in an interview with ThinkProgress. “Give me a break.”

As many of the activists ThinkProgress spoke with Monday noted, one of the major reasons people decide to get abortions is because they cannot afford the high costs of pregnancy and raising a child.

And access to abortion itself is economically stratified. The Hyde Amendment, a law that makes it illegal for federal funds to cover abortions, severely restricts abortion coverage for people on Medicaid or Medicare. It’s also harder for people in anti-abortion states to afford the care they need. For instance, after HB2 passed in Texas, Russell took out a payday loan so she could fly to California to get an abortion.

“Support for keeping abortion equal and affordable isn’t an isolated value for many of us,” said Destiny Lopez, the co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, a group that works to lift bans denying abortion coverage. “We don’t think about our lives in these silos.”

Erica Sackin, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, released a statement Monday making this point as well.

“Last week, Democrats unveiled a policy vision that centered on expanding economic opportunity. Let’s be clear: Supporting reproductive rights, including abortion, is central to expanding economic opportunity to all Americans. They are fundamental to women’s economic security, health and well being,” Sackin’s statement said.

The DNC’s 2016 platform called for a repeal of the Hyde Amendment, but advocates expressed concern Monday that Luján’s comments make it clear that the Democratic Party isn’t putting its money where its mouth is.

Heidi Williamson, a senior policy analyst for the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress, said Monday’s comments raise questions for the Democratic Party and its supporters about what the party actually stands for. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent outlet housed at CAP.)

“The question for me is what is sacred, if you’re going to define the Democratic Party, to hold fast on and make non-negotiable,” Williamson said. “If you want to throw women’s health under the bus… What is the non-negotiable, the thing you’re not willing to take off the table, because you have to draw line. Otherwise what’s the difference?”

“A litmus test isn’t a bad thing. It’s called having ideals and standards,” Russell agreed.

Kristine A. Kippins, another abortion storyteller with WeTestify and constitutional lawyer, said she would not be donating the the DCCC after Luján’s comments, and noted that his statement about supporting anti-abortion candidates coincided with Black Women’s Equal Pay Day.

“This announcement today falling on Black Women’s Equal Pay Day is rather ironic, that they are fighting for economic justice for black women but in such a narrow way,” Kippins said. “Abortion is part of this equation.”

Kippins and Russell both recently signed onto a letter sent to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) calling for stronger support for abortion rights from Democrats, which has now garnered more than 400 signatures from people who have had abortions.

Supporting anti-choice candidates is likely not electorally smart for Democrats, either. A majority of Americans support abortion rights. A January survey from Pew Research Center found that nearly seven in 10 Americans — 69 percent — say Roe v. Wade should not be overturned, including 84 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans.