The left flank of the Democratic Party is ramping up efforts to target and isolate pro-life Democrats, as the party base mobilizes over restrictive new abortion laws being passed in states across the country.
While the party once tolerated both pro-life and pro-choice Democrats inside the tent, those with pro-life views are being told they aren’t welcome anymore. The shift comes as the policy debate becomes increasingly polarized. Conservative Alabama passed a virtual ban on abortions last month -- and some Democratic presidential candidates have openly supported the right of a woman to terminate a late-term pregnancy.
“As a party, we should be 100 percent pro-choice, and it should be non-negotiable,” New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who is running for president in 2020, recently told The Washington Post.
Some are actively going after current officeholders with anti-abortion views.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, another Democratic presidential candidate, is targeting Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski, one of the few pro-life Democrats in Congress. In his first congressional endorsement of the cycle, Sanders endorsed the pro-choice Marie Newman in her Democratic primary bid against Lipinski.
In a Facebook post this week, Sanders said he’s supporting Newman in the primary because “she will be a powerful voice for upholding Roe v Wade at a disturbing moment in our history when a woman’s right to control her own body and future is at stake.”
Perhaps no Democrat has ignited more ire from his own party over abortion recently than Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who broke with Democrats last week to sign a bill that would prohibit women from having an abortion once a baby's heartbeat is detected.
“In 2015, I ran for governor as a pro-life candidate after serving as a pro-life legislator for eight years,” Edwards said in a statement. “As governor, I have been true to my word and my beliefs on this issue.”
The blowback from liberals was fierce.
“Governor Edwards, and any other elected official attempting to use political overreach to roll back our rights, is mistaken to think our fundamental freedoms are up for debate,” NARAL Pro-Choice America political director Nicole Brener-Schmitz warned in a statement. “We are the majority, and if you’re not fighting alongside us, you don’t deserve to represent the American people.”
Brener-Schmitz added that Edwards "won’t get a pass just because he is a Democrat."
But not all Democrats like what they’re seeing, especially as the party fights to win and retain seats in the South.
"I don't think we need to drum anybody out of the party," James Carville, the Louisiana Democratic strategist who famously worked for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign in 1992, told NBC News. "There's not many statewide elected Democrats in the South. Thank God, we got one in Louisiana."
The issue, though, has extended to the 2020 Democratic primary. Some of the candidates on Wednesday took aim at former Vice President Joe Biden, a Catholic who has evolved to more liberal positions on abortion over the years, for continuing to support the so-called Hyde Amendment. That amendment prohibits federal funds for abortion.
“There is #NoMiddleGround on women’s rights. Abortion is a constitutional right,” Sanders tweeted Thursday, saying he supports repealing the Hyde Amendment.
The efforts come amid a flurry of new laws at the state level over abortion, as advocates on both sides of the abortion debate prepare for a possible Supreme Court review that could overturn Roe v. Wade. Alabama's bill is the most restrictive because it's an outright ban -- while most of the others allow for an abortion up until a heartbeat is detected in the womb.
Fox News' Caleb Parke contributed to this report.