Former Democratic chairman to speak at Lansing 'Democrats for Life' event

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Mark Brewer

A liberal group is protesting an anti-abortion conference where the group’s chief legal counsel is scheduled to be a featured speaker.

Mark Brewer, former chairman for the Michigan Democratic Party, will address on Saturday the three-day national Democrats for Life conference in East Lansing.

A pro-choice advocate, Brewer said he occasionally worked with the Michigan branch of the anti-abortion caucus while Democratic Party chairman and plans to use Saturday's speaking engagement as “an opportunity to do some persuading.”

“I intend to urge the Democrats for Life to broaden their agenda to involve a lot of other quality of life issues,” Brewer said.

In an email blast Monday, Progress Michigan attacked the anti-abortion group’s agenda as hypocritical and circulated a link to a petition titled "Hypocrisy Alert" telling Democrats for Life “that their attacks on reproductive rights must stop.” Brewer is Progress Michigan’s chief legal counsel.

Brewer will speak on policy addressing “the demand side of abortion” and ways to decrease the demand through better health care access and support for pregnant women, said Kenneth Darga, president of the Michigan chapter of Democrats for Life.

The conference, titled "Pro-Life for the Whole Life," will cover a variety of “life topics” in addition to abortion, such as immigration, environmental policy and health care access, said Darga, who is the former state demographer. The conference runs Friday through Sunday.

The group has not yet taken a position on two pending ballot initiatives that would restrict abortions in Michigan, he said, and likely won’t take a position prior to the conference.

“It’s intended to get people from both sides thinking about issues that they don’t ordinarily think about, and bringing the focus back to the question of laws is not going to further people’s ability to talk to each other,” Darga said.

But the Progress Michigan email contended the conference is “all about denying Michiganders and people across the country their bodily autonomy and access to quality reproductive health care.”

“Abortion access and abortion rights are an important aspect of the Democratic platform,” said Progress Michigan’s executive director Lonnie Scott. “We believe this conference is an affront to that.”

Nonetheless, Scott said the nonprofit advocacy group has no issues with Brewer’s involvement with the conference, noting his well-known pro-choice stance.

Brewer expressed hope that Democrats for Life may be amenable to further broaden their focus given the Michigan branch’s recent filing in a case before the Michigan Supreme Court regarding the constitutionality of the Legislature’s weakening of ballot initiatives related to paid sick leave and minimum wage.

In its filing, Democrats for Life argued a higher minimum or "living" wage and basic sick leave were about “fundamental fairness” and secured “benefits that will encourage such a mother and/or parents to carry a baby to term; and for the mother and/or parents of a newborn to sustain the newborn and the family unit."

Other speakers will include former Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak, Democratic Kent County Commissioner Monica Sparks, former Michigan Right to Life Legislative Director Ed Rivet and Robert Delaney, an environmental quality specialist with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy who raised concerns about per- and polyflouroalkyl substances in a 2012 report that went unheeded for years.

Lansing Bishop Earl Boyea on Sunday will be saying the mass at the conference center, where there also will be a nondenominational Protestant service.  

Robert Delaney

Saturday will mark Delaney’s first interaction with Democrats for Life, though he said he’s opposed pro-abortion policy since college. Delaney emphasized his involvement in the group is separate from his work with the state, but he argues the state environmental work is important in the life discussion as fetuses are the most vulnerable to PFAS contaminants absorbed through the placenta.

“Dems for Life has lined up more where I’m at as a person,” Delaney said. “The issue of contamination affecting our children and our future is something that crosses all political lines, all religious lines and all issue groups.”

The number of Democratic lawmakers who opposed abortion was once much greater, but has decreased steadily over the years, said Rivet, the former longtime legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan who will be speaking on communication regarding anti-abortion policy.

“My lament is how polarized this position is,” Rivet said. “When I started in 1988, about half of the Democratic caucus was pro-life.”

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