The Politics of Choice: A Pro-Life Democrat and a Pro-Choice Republican Run for Congress

One of the more interesting developments coming from the flurry of announcements for the Montana House and Senate races is that two of the leading candidates who’ve announced recently defy party expectations on abortion rights. On the Republican side, Ryan Zinke is running as a pro-choice candidate for the House in a deeply pro-life Republican Party, while on the Democratic side, former Lieutenant Governor (and former Republican) John Bohlinger is running as a pro-life Democrat for the Senate.

While Zinke is far from a champion of reproductive rights, his voting record and statements on abortion are certainly at odds with his party’s views. In 2009, Senator Zinke scored a 65% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Montana while the rest of his party was closer to 3%. In 2011, Zinke told the Whitefish Pilot that he opposes government intervention to restrict abortion:

He also says government should play no role in personal decisions like abortion. He and his wife, Lola, and their three children live their lives pretty conservatively, he adds, but that doesn’t mean he wants someone at a desk telling him what to believe. [1. I really recommend people read this article about Zinke. I think a Republican who is pro-choice, pro-gun control, and pro-marijuana legalization is going to play really well]

In a Republican field that is likely to be a competition to see who can best embody the worst of the TEA Party, Zinke is likely to position himself as a “moderate,” but it will be interesting if supporting abortion rights (at any level) will make it impossible for Republicans to support him.

On the other side of the aisle, former Lt. Governor John Bohlinger has announced his candidacy for the U.S. Senate as a Democrat, despite a pro-life record that will make him a very tough sell in a Democratic primary.

Bohlinger’s NARAL Pro-Choice Montana issues ratings were abysmal during his time in the Legislature. He scored a 0% rating in 1999 and 2001, and a 50% rating in 2003.

Back in 2004, he made it clear he still considered himself anti-abortion, as Mike Dennison reported:

During his legislative career, Bohlinger voted for a number of measures that would restrict or possibly outlaw abortion. But he also voted against a bill 10 years ago requiring minors to get “parental consent” before having an abortion.

Bohlinger said that while he opposes abortion, there is little he could do politically as a state senator or lieutenant governor to make it illegal.

I suspect Bohlinger’s record will prove more problematic. He’ll be facing off against a credible, pro-choice opponent in John Walsh and has the integrity to honestly assess his own position on choice issues. Zinke, on the other hand, is neither burdened by a credible opponent nor the integrity necessary to be honest with Montana Republicans. I have little doubt he will soon be traveling the state proclaiming his absolute fealty to the Republican war on reproductive rights.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • If the issue is decided by our House of Lords, the Supreme Court, our American mullahs, why does one politician matter? True, senators ratify judges, but once that is done the leash is off and you don’t know what you got. That’s as far from accountability as you can get.

    • EDITED by PW – I’m pretty sure this comment was designed specifically test our commenting policy. Quick reminder – entirely anonymous (not pseudonymous, I’m more tolerant of that) comments that contain nothing but insults – DELETED.

  • If memory serves me correctly, Zinke voted to abolish the death penalty in Montana. I sometimes wonder whether he would discover he’s a Democrat if he examined his beliefs closely enough.

    • I simply don’t see much smarts from the guy. He’s kind of a lost soul in the political world, and for a good reason. There is NO thinking required in the military, nor on the football field. It’s all about taking orders. And now, the barking seal is having to actually THINK on his own for the first time in his life. He’s adrift, and his relationship with the weirdo “own cia” dude shows that quite clearly. Zinke is NOT ready for prime time. Some day, maybe, but not now. That fact that he wants to open a brew pub, though, is a good sign. You see, he will get a good education from us micro brew guys. Micro brew guys are usually much smarter than your average lout. Myself excepted!

  • The problem with Zinke saying he’s pro choice is this: he’s partnerd up with and is paying consulting fees to a firm called Base Connect in Washington DC…..And according to their CEO, Kimberly Bellisimo’s bio on their website,, “She’ll also tell you that Base Connect has a litmus test for potential clients. You need to (1) be a 100% pro-life movement conservative ” So, although he may be talking the talk, he most certainly isn’t walking the walk….. check it out …. he has a bad case of not being honest. He really seems to think that he just needs to say the words but not stand by them, whatever they are…

  • Does anyone remember Rand Paul saying that “Misdirection works?” Well I am thinking that goes a lot farther than just Paul regarding the Republicans of today. I believe all of them including Zinke and Bollinger on their newfound Pro-choice stance believe in this “Misdirection.”

    I’m sorry but I believe they are just splitting as many votes in their favor as they can on this issue. Their are more women voters in Montana then Men…. just saying!

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