Pro-life Democrats have key role in party and society, organizer says

Democrat donkey Credit Kim Love via Flickr CC BY SA 20 CNA Kim Love via Flickr (CC BY SA 2.0).

Pro-life Democrats not only have a place within the Democratic Party today, but can act as a bridge in society during a time of intense polarization, said a leader in the movement.

"Really I think pro-life Democrats hold the key to ending the incivility and gridlock in today's American politics, which have been increasingly focused on abortion," said Christian Matozzo, state chapter coordinator for the Pennsylvania Democrats for Life.

Other Democrats, he contended, "will realize our message, the 'whole-life message', is something that the majority of Americans are completely in favor of. And that will translate to positive change in our society."

Matozzo spoke to CNA in the wake of the controversy surrounding State Rep. Brian Sims, a Philadelphia Democrat who made waves with social media videos of his confrontations with pro-lifers outside a local Planned Parenthood.

In videos posted online, Sims approached several people, including two teenage girls, at prayerful protests outside Planned Parenthood. He accused them of bigotry and asked internet readers' help in publicizing the identities and addresses of the protestors.

"At the very least it's completely unacceptable for a public official to speak in that manner to anyone," Matozzo told CNA.

He said Sims' behavior was not a one-time incident, but showed him "making an effort to humiliate peaceful sidewalk counselors."

Such action, known in internet parlance as doxing, is illegal in most jurisdictions if intended to harass or in other specific circumstances. The tweets caused intense scrutiny and Sims locked his Twitter account.

Facing mounting criticism, Sims, a past abortion clinic escort, apologized for violating Planned Parenthood's non-engagement policy. He did not apologize to the women he confronted.

"My emotions took over because I was, and am, angry," Sims said May 18, according to CBS Philly. "I'm angry that despite abortion being legal everywhere, anti-choice zealots are causing panic, anger, confusion, and rage for so many women."

State Democratic leaders only made brief comment on the issue.

"Democratic leaders addressed the matter with Sims privately and are satisfied it will not be repeated," Bill Patton, a spokesman for House Democrats, said May 16, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Matozzo, a committee person of the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, reflected on Sims' actions and the party's response.

"Frankly, I was disappointed in his behavior and in the fact that my own party has not denounced his behavior," he said. According to Matozzo, there are many pro-life Democrats serving as elected officials in state and local politics in Pennsylvania.

"Not only do they win, they win in convincing fashion," he said. "I think we need to tell members of our party that. Do we want to be purists on an issue that many people are extremely morally opposed to, and that scientifically doesn't really back you up? Or are we going to advocate for everyone, including those of us in the womb?"

"As long as there is one Democrat in elected office who will vote their conscience and vote pro-life, we still have a place," he added.

Matozzo pointed to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives' May 14 passage of H.B. 321, which bans abortion in cases where the unborn baby is diagnosed with Down syndrome. The bill, still under consideration in the Senate, passed by a vote of 117 to 76.

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"Thirteen Democrats voted in favor of that bill," Matozzo said.

In Matozzo's view, pro-life Democrats are best positioned to reach other Democrats and to counter many arguments against pro-life advocates, like claims about not caring about women, not caring about children after they are born, or not caring about social welfare programs.

"I'm in favor of universal health care, I'm in favor of food stamps, CHIP (Children's Health Insurance Program), crisis pregnancy centers," he said. "These things the government can and does currently fund to support women in crisis pregnancies."

Pro-life Democrats can argue against Planned Parenthood from the angle that it is "a multi-million-dollar business that is trying to monopolize their heinous industry."

"They're not in it for care, they're in it to make money," he charged.

"These are the kinds of arguments we can make as pro-life Democrats to other Democrats to show them [that] abortion is never the solution to a problem, it only creates another problem," Matozzo told CNA. "When we come at it from those angles I think we have a winning message."

As for practical politics, he said, pro-life Democrats must get elected in the same way as any other candidate: "It's organization, it's showing up, and it's making sure that the pro-life issue is not a partisan one."

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He suggested pro-lifers in general need to work on showing support "for everybody who votes pro-life," regardless of their political party. Many pro-life Democrats are afraid and face pressure to change their views, he said, noting that Democrats for Life is "serving as their voice."

"Pro-life organizations don't step up for Democrats nearly as much. That's why we need to exist," he said.

On May 10, a "Pro-Life Rally Against Bullying" drew 1,000 people outside of the same Planned Parenthood where Sims had allegedly harassed people. Pro-life speakers at the event called for Sims' resignation. Leaders from local and national pro-life groups attended the rally, including the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Family Council, 40 Days for Life, Students for Life, Sidewalk Advocates for Life, Sidewalk Servants, and the Susan B. Anthony List.

Matozzo, who attended the rally, praised the event as "a way for the pro-life community to come together in Philly at a critical time."

He suggested that people who are not pro-life are "feeling the heat" in a changing climate.

"They're reacting in a way that is not acceptable," he said. "I think we need to keep doing what we've been doing. We can't be intimidated, we can't be harassed, we can't be bullied into not witnessing in front of clinics in defense of life.

"When we stop doing that, then we're the losers," he said, suggesting continued prayer that gives "the same witness that those brave women did."

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