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Story highlights

Jill Filipovic: Democratic party may be open to backing anti-abortion candidates who can help them win back Congress

She says this is an option that should not even be on the table, is an insult to women and a losing strategy

Editor’s Note: Jill Filipovic is a journalist based in New York and Nairobi, Kenya, and the author of the book “The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness.” Follow her on Twitter. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) —  

The chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Ben Ray Luján, said in an interview this week that his party intended to support candidates who can win, regardless of their position on abortion rights.

There will be no abortion “litmus test” in the Democrats’ drive to win back the House, he said. His comments echoed earlier ones from Nancy Pelosi, Charles Schumer and Bernie Sanders.

Jill Filipovic
Courtesy of Jill Filipovic
Jill Filipovic

That’s not just an insult to the women (and men) who make up the Democrats’ base. It’s a fool’s errand.

Much of the left has learned all the wrong lessons from Hillary Clinton’s defeat. They could focus on increasing turnout among their base – women and African-Americans – but Democrats have instead taken a rhetorical page from both Donald Trump’s sexism and Bernie Sanders’s populism by trying to appeal to disaffected white guys.

This pivot to the right on women’s health is particularly insidious, reflecting an anti-feminist backlash across the political spectrum.

Democrats may say they are trying to field the most competitive team of candidates they can to win a majority in Congress, and in some districts that candidate might be anti-abortion. But this treads a dangerous path: ceding to demands that the entire political system cater to the perceived values of a group that largely stopped voting for Democrats in the 1960s, when the party pushed the Civil Rights Act and equal rights for women.

The public embrace of anti-choice candidates is just one plank of this party overhaul. The new Democratic platform emphasizes building infrastructure, lowering prescription drug costs and creating jobs.

These are all valuable goals, but making them the entire focus of the media blitz at the expense of policies aimed at serving women and people of color seems to be a naked appeal to the white working class, who some political observers have decided voted for Trump out of economic anxiety. This narrative is belied by the social science, which showed bigotry had much more of an influence on Trump supporters than personal finances.

It’s not just “economic anxiety” the party is trying to transform into votes. Funding candidates who oppose legal abortion contradicts any claim that Democrats are the party of the masses, let alone the ignored and underserved.

Women are more than half the population, and one in three of us will have an abortion in her lifetime, according to a 2011 study from the Guttmacher Institute. Nearly every American will have a friend, lover, colleague, girlfriend, sister, boss, wife or mother who has had an abortion, even if they never know it.

Feminists focus on reproductive rights for good reason: a woman’s ability to decide for herself when and if to have children shapes much of the rest of her life – whether she completes her education, whether she marries for love, whether she parents when she feels adept and ready, whether she fulfills her professional potential, and whether she’s able to follow her own personal path wherever it leads.

Supporting laws that give the state the power to compel women to continue pregnancies is misogynist and illiberal. Expecting Democratic politicians to stake out clear ground on abortion rights is not a “purity test” or a difference in opinion on policy or efficacy, like divergent views on the best ways to reduce inequality or suggesting we should repair the ACA before promoting a single-payer system.

It’s a basic question of human rights: Are women sovereign citizens in our own bodies? If your answer is no, the Democratic Party shouldn’t fund your campaign.

It’s disturbing to see the United States’ ostensibly progressive party so quickly abandon both its own most loyal voters and progressive ideals, all in a frenzied grab for the same Trump supporters who have dominated sympathetic media coverage of the election. It’s also a losing strategy.

Most Democrats are pro-choice (about the same proportion of Republicans who are pro-life), and fewer than one in five Americans says they only support candidates who agree with them on abortion rights. One imagines those one in five are probably the most strongly pro-choice or pro-life, and that the strongest pro-life belief – that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, even rape, incest, or life of the pregnant woman – probably correlates with many other religious and conservative beliefs as well.

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It seems unlikely that abortion alone is the one issue alienating many voters from the Democratic Party.

What is obvious, though, is that abortion rights are an animating issue for the Democratic Party base, and support for abortion rights gets a whole lot of women marching, donating money, and volunteering for Democrats.

The party has a lot to lose by alienating them in a dodgy gamble to scoop up Trump voters, where a “win” apparently means building the ranks of the party by adding more people who are hostile to women’s rights. Clearly, we have enough of those guys already.