Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2021 / 04:30 pm (CNA).- As Democrats last week took effective control of the Senate, pro-life leaders turned their attention to the record of one senator who could cast pivotal votes in the next two years.
Having gained control of 50 seats in the Senate, Democrats now enjoy a narrow majority in the chamber courtesy of Vice President Kamala Harris’ tie-breaking vote. However, when the process of reconciliation is invoked—a Senate procedure by which only 50 votes are needed to pass certain budget-related measures—every vote will count. And the name of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is being discussed by pro-life groups as a possible obstacle to Democrats passing pro-abortion items.
Manchin, a moderate West Virginia Democrat who was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010 after serving as governor of that state, has been known to cast pro-life votes before.
He joined Republicans in voting for two important pro-life policies in the last Congress, the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act and the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Manchin also recently pledged his support for the Hyde Amendment, a long-standing policy which prohibits federal funding of elective abortions–despite growing calls within his party to rescind that amendment.
However, despite these votes and statements, Manchin’s scores from pro-life groups range from an “F” rating on life to 100% pro-life.
David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), told CNA that Manchin earned a perfect 100% score from NRLC for his votes in the 116th Congress. However, the group gave him mixed ratings in previous congresses, such as a 42% rating the 115th Congress and a 75% rating in the 114th Congress.
These lower grades were largely due to disagreement over the Affordable Care Act. While Manchin has supported the law, some pro-life groups—along with the U.S. bishops’ conference—have opposed it because it ultimately allowed for public funding of abortions.
“So you kind of see a pattern here,” O’Steen said. “On standalone abortion votes, he [Manchin] will vote with us.
He added that “the changes in percentages are not so much that he [Manchin] is changing, it’s that the issues before him are changing.”
O’Steen said he wouldn’t speculate on Manchin’s future votes, but added that “we will certainly be in touch with Senator Manchin.”
“We would certainly be hopeful that he would listen to the concerns of the pro-life movement,” he said, adding that before his time in the Senate, Manchin was a pro-life governor.
Mallory Quigley, vice president of communications for the Susan B. Anthony List, told CNA this month that while Manchin “voted pro-life consistently” during the last Congress, he “has an overall very mixed record throughout his time in Congress.” The group gave Manchin an “F” rating on its congressional scorecard.
Quigley argued that in a Congress with a pro-abortion majority, “the most important issue for the pro-life movement becomes the filibuster.”
The filibuster is a Senate procedure by which one senator may object to a vote on legislation and hold up its passage; 60 votes are required to break a filibuster and vote on legislation. Pro-life groups have stated that if the filibuster is abolished, Democrats could successfully pass pro-abortion policies needing only 50 votes.
“The most important thing Sen. Manchin can do is to prevent the destruction of the filibuster which would allow a simple majority of pro-abortion Senators to expand the Court and radically change the structure of our government – destroying the system of checks and balances put in place by our Founders,” Quigley told CNA in a statement.
“We hope he [Manchin] will adhere to his declared position of opposing the destruction of the filibuster, as well as his support for the Hyde Amendment – the pro-life movement, and his WV constituents, will thank him if he does,” Quigley said.
On Monday, SBA List thanked Manchin for pledging to uphold the filibuster and the Hyde Amendment, launching a $200,000 campaign highlighting his position to preserve the filibuster.
Manchin’s office declined to comment to CNA on the differing scores of his voting record.
Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, told CNA in an interview that she has found Manchin to be both reliable and direct.
“You don’t have to worry about where he stands,” Day said of Manchin. “He’s been a big supporter of Democrats for Life. I feel very comfortable with Senator Manchin being with us.”
Day praised Manchin for reiterating his support last month for the Hyde amendment–which prohibits the use of taxpayer funds for elective abortion procedures–despite calls from many in his own party to rescind it.
But Day said she understands distrust in the pro-life community towards the Democratic Party.
“I think there is a realistic concern about Democrats because there have been so many that have turned. But I think we have to support these pro-life Democrats, we have to establish this trust,” she said. “If we start trusting each other it will be better for the movement.”