By Delaney Fox, Staff Writer
From Jan. 15 to Jan. 21, various offices, organizations and clubs at Saint Vincent College planned events to commemorate “Life in Christ Week.” One of these events was a talk given by former Congressman Daniel Lipinski, organized by the Center for Catholic Thought and Culture.
Students were invited to listen to the talk in the Fred Rogers Center at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 19. Lipinski’s talk, titled “Witnessing to Truth Over Power: A Catholic Congressman’s Call,” focused on his experience as a pro-life Democrat in the House of Representatives.
Lipinski never set out to become a leader in the pro-life movement. He began his career as a representative for Illinois’ third district in 2004. Due to the Catholic presence in the district, Lipinski believed that it was the only one he had a chance of ever winning in.
As the general political atmosphere changed, so did media coverage on Lipinski. The Democratic Party shifted to a more pro-choice outlook, and Lipinski maintained a firmly pro-life stance. The media emphasized Lipinski’s dissent from his party.
In 2009, Lipinski was one of few Democrats in Congress who were opposed to the Affordable Care Act due to language that might permit taxpayer money to fund abortions. Revisions were made to add pro-life language to the Affordable Care Act, but this motion had to be approved by the Senate.
The Democratic Party lost a seat in the Senate that year and therefore did not have enough votes to overcome a filibuster. The Democrats in the House of Representatives were told that they needed to pass the act as is, as it was unlikely to pass in the Senate again.
Lipinski and about nine other Democrats maintained their refusal to vote for the unrevised Affordable Care Act. Lipinski was called upon by other representatives and party leaders, including President Obama, to change his mind.
The representatives were offered an executive order that would prohibit taxpayer money funding abortion; about seven representatives tentatively agreed with the stipulation of seeing the language of the order. After it was shown to each dissenting Democrat, Lipinski was the only one who continued to insist on the inclusion of pro-life language in the Affordable Care Act itself. It passed without revision in early 2010.
By 2017, it was clear to Lipinski that pro-choice groups would be advocating against him throughout 2018, before the next election. Many corporations and organizations contributed to campaigns against Lipinski and for his opposition.
Despite his agreement with the Democratic Party on nearly every other issue, there was a media frenzy surrounding Lipinski. He was accused of being anti-women and being friends with then-president Donald Trump; a photo of Trump with Lipinski in the background was used as evidence.
Even so, Lipinski managed to win the 2018 election by a narrow margin. He expected the media campaigns against him to resume as 2020 approached, but he remained firm in his pro-life stance. He became the lead Democratic cosponsor on a prohibition on abortion after 20 weeks and spoke at the March for Life. However, Lipinski ultimately lost the 2020 election.
“I thought only about how my entire life, really for 15.5 years, had revolved around being a member of Congress. It is an all-encompassing job… I was lying in bed thinking it was sort of all gone. What is my purpose?... It felt very empty,” Lipinski said.
Lipinski began working on his concession speech the morning after the election. He wanted to ensure that he emphasized the message that he would rather stand by his principles than betray them to win an election.
After delivering the speech, Lipinski began to receive calls and texts thanking him for his courage in sticking with his principles. In losing, he saw that he had been given an opportunity.
“I felt, with God’s grace, I had done the best that I could. While losing an election is painful, I felt like I had not failed God… it seemed that in losing, I may have provided greater witness for others,” Lipinski said.
Lipinski argues that Catholics need to be builders with a positive vision, changing hearts and minds and helping to reach compromise, which is essential in politics and in democracy.
Lipinski also gave a speech at the March for Life on Jan. 21. In the speech, Lipinski gave a shout out to Saint Vincent students who attended as part of the celebration of “Life in Christ” week.