We are months into a Democratic presidential primary defined by candidates’ bold commitments to progressive ideals, with 20-plus candidates offering plans for everything from universal health care to universal basic income to bold climate initiatives. But there's something glaring that's been missing on the campaign trail and the debate stage — and women have taken notice.
During the last debate, candidates appeared stubbornly unwilling to even mention the word “abortion,” and shied away from tackling reproductive freedoms writ large. But Roe v. Wade is in the crosshairs and the Republican Party is unified in its determination to eliminate abortion access. Meanwhile, providers of abortion and family planning are dwindling and the maternal mortality rate remains unconscionably high. This is a national crisis – and we need to treat it as such.
With ten Democrats set to take the stage again tonight, the candidates must step up and put reproductive health, rights, and justice front and center. That means recognizing that, in 2020, they have an opportunity to run – and win – on support for safe, legal, affordable access to abortion care.
Voters are angered and outraged that six state legislatures, emboldened by Trump, have tried to ban abortion outright, passing laws that — thankfully — have yet to take effect. Support for abortion access has reached its highest levels in decades, with 60 percent of U.S. adults believing that abortion should be legal in all or most circumstances. Even in states that passed abortion bans, there has been and continues to be widespread opposition to banning abortion. These numbers should assure the presidential candidates they need not tiptoe around the issue. Instead, they should take a cue from voters in their home states and those across the country, and use the next debate as an opportunity to underscore how the right and ability to access abortion care aligns with views and values held widely across the country.
In previous years — through election after election — it has been common practice for candidates to timidly voice support for Roe.
But such tacit support for reproductive health will no longer suffice.
Over the past two years, the Trump administration has upended the landscape for reproductive freedom, whether by instilling staunchly anti-abortion judges at every level of the federal bench or through efforts to end of Title X funding as we know it.
These efforts to push abortion access out of reach has ignited an unprecedented countermovement – one that was already building in cities and states across the country, including in those where Democratic candidates already have run and won.
In Kamala Harris’ home state of California, legislators are considering a bill that would require student health centers at all state university campuses to provide medication abortion, often called “the abortion pill.”
New York State, home to Kirsten Gillibrand (who recently dropped out of the race) kicked off the year by passing the Reproductive Health Act, decriminalizing abortion, recognizing the fundamental right to make reproductive decisions, and safeguarding access in New York no matter what the Supreme Court does. Bill DeBlasio’s New York City recently approved providing funding for women who need financial assistance to access abortion.
Last year, Elizabeth Warren’s Massachusetts passed the NASTY WOMEN Act eliminating a 173-year-old statute criminalizing abortion. The state is now considering legislation ensuring that anyone, regardless of age, income, or insurance, can access abortion care. Joe Biden’s home state of Delaware made a similar move, updating state law to decriminalize abortion.
Bernie Sanders’ Vermont passed a law to guarantee the fundamental right to abortion, regardless of what happens at the federal level.
Cory Booker’s New Jersey enacted protections for abortion providers while expanding access to family planning for low-income men and women.
Pete Buttigieg’s South Bend, Indiana is now the home of a new clinic providing abortion care, and Mayor Pete himself took action last year to prevent an anti-abortion pregnancy center from opening up right next door.
And Tulsi Gabbard’s Hawaii passed a law this year prohibiting discrimination against employees based on their reproductive health care decisions.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. In the first six months of 2019 alone, 27 states and the District of Columbia advanced more than 100 bills to advance reproductive health, rights, and justice. The message is loud and clear: voters want their elected officials to protect the right of all women to control their bodies, lives, and futures.
On Thursday night, the Democratic candidates for president have an opportunity and an obligation to speak to the needs and values of the majority in this country by addressing the crisis of access to reproductive health services — especially abortion access — head-on. I urge them to seize the moment. Voters are poised to support them when they do.
Andrea Miller is the President of the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH) and its Action Fund, which builds power at the state and local level to change public policy, galvanize public support, and normalize women’s decisions about abortion and contraception.