Updated: Feb 17
By Adam Khan ('23)
Back in 1973, The United States Supreme Court historically legalized abortion nationally with the Roe v. Wade decision. The decision prohibited states from banning abortions before “fetal viability”, the point at which the fetus can survive outside the womb.
Since that 7-2 decision almost 50 years ago, America has been divided on the topic of abortion. Pro-life and pro-choice are terms that the majority of people are familiar with. To some, abortion is seen as a woman’s right to choose, and a part of their healthcare, while to others, it is seen as an injustice towards unborn children and the murder of human life.
Traditionally, the Democratic Party has been in favor of abortion rights, or at least fewer restrictions. The party, “strongly and unequivocally supports roe v. Wade and a woman's right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”
Then along come people like Aaron Oliver, the Democratic Municipal Chair of Morristown. Born and raised there, he is a 17-year Army veteran. He currently serves as a captain in the New Jersey Army National Guard, as well as a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark.
But recently, Mr. Oliver, self-described as a loyal Democrat, has been met with backlash from fellow party members on the basis of his pro-life views. He has been labeled as a “traitor” and has been pressured to resign from his position. Oliver is known for his outspoken advocacy for the unborn.
In an exclusive interview, Oliver was asked whether or not he saw it as hypocritical that a party that prides itself on accepting everyone, wants to have him removed just because he does not think like the majority.
Mr. Oliver said, “Yes, it seems very hypocritical. I’ve always thought of the party as a ‘big tent,’ and one where the members are not expected to march in lockstep. To not allow any compromise on this issue, which can be considered a civil rights one, and the moral issue of our time is strange.”
One point of controversy in which he was met with opposition, was his affiliation with the Democrats for Life of America (DFLA), whose purpose according to its mission statement is to end the “mass lethal injustice of abortion, and other human rights abuses, and to build a life-affirming culture within our Party, in our communities, and in our nation.”
The organization also happens to be majority-led by women activists. While challenging the mainstream views of abortion, Mr. Oliver and others have highlighted how the party should be more open to creating a party for diverse ideas and opinions.
He said, “Being pro-life is commonly seen as not aligning with Democratic Party values, but I strongly disagree. The party prides itself on identifying with and supporting the vulnerable and marginalized in society, and this should include both pregnant women and unborn children. In fact, 1/3 of Democrats identify as pro-life, but they are often forced to be silenced and are not adequately represented.”
With the stereotypical idea that people who are pro-life are also anti-women, many find it hard to voice their opinions on what they deem as morally correct.
One turning point for Mr. Oliver politically was New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy’s proposal of the “Reproductive Freedom Act.” The propositions of his legislation that caused controversy were the authorizing of non-physicians to perform abortions, requiring insurers to cover abortions with no out-of-pocket costs, removing the Parental Notification for Abortion Act, and mandating an annual allocation of state taxpayer funds to Planned Parenthood, along with several other accessibilities the legislation grants.
However, Aaron Oliver’s progression of pro-life beliefs came much earlier in his life.
Mr. Oliver said, “I had an inkling that I was pro-life a long time ago (twenty years ago) when I started asking myself the question of why unborn life was not given any consideration. I had considered myself pro-choice, but that was because my whole family and most of my friends were/are pro-choice. I also saw the Democratic Party changing from the belief that abortion should be “safe, rare, and legal” in the 90s, to now abortion without any restrictions… I believe this establishes a litmus test on candidates and party officials which is unfortunate.”
Supporters say that being pro-life is not restricted to just religious arguments, but rather is its own philosophy with millions of supporters across party lines from Democrat to Republican, to independent.
Mr. Oliver said, “The pro-life movement is very diverse, and I noticed this when I attended the March for Life in Washington DC this year. It is diverse as far as gender, age, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, religious belief (or not), and political belief (it has progressives and conservatives).”
To Mr. Oliver and many others, being a pro-life supporter simply means valuing the rights of the unborn and seeking their protection. It is a topic that delves into both the issue of morality and ethics.
Despite the majority of Democrats being in favor of abortion in some form, Mr. Oliver mentioned what still keeps him in his party.
He said, “I believe in the consistent life ethic, which applies to other social issues that the Democratic Party advocates, such as supporting working people, the environment, education, and health care. I see being pro-life with the abortion issue as a natural extension of this. A term we use in the Democrats for Life is “Pro-Life for the Whole Life.” I don’t know many people that agree with their party on every single issue. I often get asked about switching parties but I am trying my best to stay and fight for what I believe in.”
With Roe v. Wade under heat by the Supreme Court, the future of abortion rights is expected to be drastically different from now. Both Democrats and Republicans wish to form a foundation for building a better America and maintaining the liberties of the people. In the case of Aaron Oliver, he did not back down from his beliefs despite the backlash and threats he received. Because of people like him, Pro-lifers say there is reason for optimism in the future of their cause.