New Abortion Litmus Test for Democratic Attorneys General

News: US News
by Paul Murano  •  •  November 19, 2019   

No support for AG candidates who fail to back killing of unborn

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WASHINGTON ( The Democratic Attorneys General Association (DAGA) has decided that no candidate for state attorney general (AG) will receive financial or other support if they do not publicly declare their support for abortion.

The group announced Monday that it will refuse to endorse any candidate who does not publicly support "reproductive rights" and expanding access to abortion, becoming the first national party committee to impose an explicit abortion litmus test on its candidates. In Monday's statement, DAGA co-chair Ellen Rosenblum, attorney general of Oregon, explained the group's strategy:

As the battle for reproductive rights unfolds at the ballot box, in statehouses, and courtrooms across this country, there is no group of elected officials better positioned to lead the fight for our rights than state Attorneys General. That is why electing Democratic AGs who are committed to protecting reproductive freedom, especially for the most vulnerable communities, has never been more important.

DAGA's decision comes after multiple state legislatures have pushed to strengthen pro-life measures, including introducing "heartbeat bills" that would effectively outlaw abortion after six weeks' gestation.

Planned Parenthood celebrated DAGA's move. "We applaud the Democratic Attorneys General Association for its decision to endorse only candidates who are committed to protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights — including safe, legal abortion," said Alexis McGill Johnson, Acting President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

"Attorneys general are some of the most important people protecting our ability to access sexual and reproductive health care — including abortion," she added.

The only litmus test for an Attorney General should be a belief in the rule of law and the courage to defend and uphold the Constitution.

NARAL Pro-Choice America also weighed in. President Ilyse Hogue said that the move "could not come at a more important moment. The Republican party is waging an all-out assault against women and pregnant people, and voters have to know someone has our backs in this crucial moment."

Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris also tweeted their support for the new litmus test.

But not all Democrats are happy about the move. Some are worried that it could hurt their party in future elections in some suburban districts and more moderate and conservative states.

Former North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who served two terms as her state's attorney general, described the decision as "wrongheaded"; a pro-abortion self-identified Catholic, she lost her seat after voting against the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh last year.

DAGA representatives (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Heitkamp cited the example of Gov. John Bel Edwards of Louisiana, a rare Democrat officeholder in the South who won re-election on Saturday. Edwards campaigned on his opposition to abortion and support for a Louisiana state law that bars abortion after a preborn child's pulsing heart can be detected — a point at which many women don't even know they are pregnant.

"There are very principled people, who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue for religious reasons," Heitkamp said, "and when you say you're not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary. You have to look at the totality of a candidate."

Since Trump won the White House in 2016, DAGA has grown from a part-time operation to a robust organization, and is expected to raise nearly $35 million in this election cycle.

DAGA's ideological counterpart, the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), has slammed the group's abortion litmus test. In a statement issued on Monday, RAGA Executive Director Adam Piper weighed in on the controversy:

The only litmus test for an Attorney General should be a belief in the rule of law and the courage to defend and uphold the Constitution. While RAGA is focused on winning elections and the hearts and minds of voters, DAGA is focused on disregarding the rule of law and folding to the demands of extreme special interest groups.

The new standard is unlikely to have an immediate impact on incumbents. Of the 27 Democratic attorneys general currently in office, only one — Jim Hood of Mississippi — describes himself as a "pro-life Democrat." But they believe that DAGA's move will have an impact in the future as more states make laws relating to abortion, especially if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

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