The turning point came when Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey was denied a chance to speak at the 1992 Democratic National Convention in New York. Ordinarily, the ranking elected Democrat from such a large and important state would be a natural choice to address the convention and the nation. But Bill Clinton’s team wouldn’t permit even one pro-life voice to disturb the parade of pro-abortion platform speakers. As a Catholic New York reporter covering the convention, I realized then that the Democrats had decidedly abandoned their working class and Catholic constituents and become what Republican leaders had already tagged them: the party of abortion. It wasn’t long before they were running toward the darkest corners of our culture, rightly earning an even more explicit epithet: the party of death.
That convention was also memorable for the activities of Operation Rescue, whose leader Randall Terry had publicly promised to present Candidate Clinton with a perfectly preserved aborted child whom he had named “Baby Nathan.” Terry was convinced that once southern-born, Bible-bred Bill saw the tiny abortion victim face to face, he would repent as King David did at the witness of the Prophet Nathan. One of Terry’s operatives, mistaken by Clinton as an autograph seeker, did succeed in foisting the remains of the 19-week-old baby on the unsuspecting presidential candidate, saying “What about the babies, Governor?” But even the seasoned pro-life warrior Terry hadn’t anticipated the depth of Clinton’s commitment to the abortion extremism that would shape his eight years in office. Clinton, who was headed for an early morning jog in Central Park, simply cursed and got into his limo.
Running against incumbent George H.W. Bush, Clinton seized on the simple insight that people will vote their pocketbook over most other issues, popularizing the phrase “It’s the economy, stupid.” Sensing that abortion rights were not quite a winning issue in a national election, he tailored his message to claim that the procedure should be “safe, legal and rare.” It was an ingenious phrasing that allowed those along a range of views to choose which word to focus on. Abortion proponents would emphasize “legal,” those with reservations about the procedure could take comfort that it would at least be “safe,” and others who opposed abortion but were attracted by Clinton’s social justice rhetoric could latch onto “rare.” The last was the viewpoint of many Catholics, including an editor at the newspaper where I worked, who pushed the talking point that the Jesuit-educated Clinton was the closest thing to a Catholic candidate the nation had seen in a while.
How conveniently naïve, I thought at the time, to focus on the gnat of Clinton’s social justice education at Georgetown’s School of Foreign Policy and ignore the camel of abortion that would become the centerpiece of his administration. The same Catholic Democrats would be shocked (shocked!) when, in his first full day in office, as thousands gathered for the March for Life in Washington, their “Catholic” president issued executive orders rescinding Reagan-era pro-life policies. They failed to see, or more accurately to acknowledge the fact that the turning point had already come for the Democratic Party with the de-platforming of a popular governor who believed in true social justice for all—including the unborn—and strove to keep a door open for pro-life candidates.
With nearly a million abortions each year (54 percent of them drug-induced), “rare” is not a concern for proponents. The lie of “safe” was exposed a decade ago with revelations of the gruesome practices of Kermit Gosnell, who was not roundly condemned by pro-abortionists even after he was convicted of manslaughter in the death of a woman whose abortion he had botched, and sentenced to life in prison for killing viable babies born after their mothers were given dangerous drug “cocktails” to induce labor. The main concern of elected Democrats in light of the Gosnell horror was to protect other abortionists from inspection and prosecution.
Now, in the aftermath of Dobbs and the overturning of Roe, leading Democrats will not tolerate any pro-life sentiments, a stance that severely reduces the pool of candidates the party will support. When the on-demand killing of babies in the womb is the litmus test for receiving funds from the national party, you’re bound to get some pretty nasty and extreme ideologues running for office. Those with any pro-life leanings will be sidelined at some point—think of former Democratic congressmen (and Catholics) Dan Lipinski and Bart Stupak, who tried (unsuccessfully) to keep abortion funding out of Obamacare—or else, like Joe Biden, they will change their views on abortion in short order to maintain party support.
Our politics now is a scorched-earth battle permitting of little compromise due to the abortion extremism of one side; it has crippled our national conversation, sown distrust between parties from Capitol Hill down to the small towns across America, and encouraged the search for “savior” candidates who will not just win elections but wipe out their opponents.
If we are seeking the root cause of this noxious political division and rancorous rhetoric in the public square, maybe we should first consider this: It’s abortion, stupid!