At the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan accepted the party’s nomination for president. At the same time, the Republican party added a new plank to their platform. It read: “we affirm our support of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children.”
Right to Life of Michigan helped create the language that started a lasting shift toward an anti-abortion agenda.
But, while Republicans in Michigan and nationwide largely adopted the anti-abortion platform, Democrats did not instantly all become pro-choice, although that was a part of their platform.
In 1985 Right to Life of Michigan endorsed a pro-life Democrat for a crucial special election seat in the state Senate.
Adrain Hemond is with Grassroots Midwest - a bipartisan political consulting firm. He said the same organization supporting a Democrat today seems almost impossible.
“Democrats don’t see Right to Life’s endorsement and wouldn’t accept it
if it were offered,” Hemond said. “And the same thing largely goes for Republicans even if they support some abortion rights, accepting an endorsement from Planned Parenthood is politically poisonous.”
In the last eight years, there has been a dramatic change in the number of Democrats supported by Right to Life in legislative races. 35 Democrats were supported in 2010… but only 2 in 2018. In contrast, Right to Life supported 137 Republican candidates last year.
Lori Carpentier is the president of Planned Parenthood of Michigan. She said the issue and the divide between Republicans and Democrats today is “on steroids.”
“We are in a place now where there are very few anti-choice Democrats, but there are virtually no pro-choice Republicans,” Carpentier said. “And I think we have gotten to a place where we can’t even have discourse.”
Both Planned Parenthood and Right to Life have used this divide and the emotions around the issue to increase the amount of money they raise. However, the impact of all that money is difficult to gauge.
Barbara Listing has been president of Right to Life of Michigan since 1981. She said their influence in any single election is small.
“We just find that we need to get our people to the polls and vote for our Candidates,” she said.
But donations increase dramatically every election year. In some years, Right to Life’s political action committee’s account has gone down to zero, only to go up to more than 200-thousand dollars the following election year. It’s similar with Planned Parenthood, though not as dramatic.
The political parties today use a candidate’s position on abortion as part of determining their acceptance to the party. The endorsements of Right to Life and Planned Parenthood can sometimes make or break a candidate, especially in a primary. But Right to Life and Planned Parenthood say they aren’t being used by the Republicans and Democrats that support them to essentially funnel more money toward their respective political party.
Both say they’d like to endorse either party.
Before the 1980’s, there was a bipartisan pro-choice caucus in the Michigan Legislature – made up of Republicans and Democrats. The odds of that happening again, are slim.
Hemmond said we are now seeing the result of that natural realignment that began in the 1980s - where abortion went from a boutique issue to a concerted effort by Republicans - especially religious Republicans - to capture those votes. But he said the country has also become more divided.
“Whether you identify yourself as prolife or prochoice is one of those cultural totems that we have divided ourselves along now,” he said. “So that makes it even more partisan - you’re one of those people, not one of our people.”
Abortion will likely be a key issue for the 2020 election, for both parties, and the endorsements of Right to Life and Planned Parenthood could be key in primaries and general elections.