(WASHINGTON) — Nearly all of the Democratic presidential candidates attended Planned Parenthood’s forum on Saturday, and – on the subject of abortion access, at least – presented a united front.
The “We Decide” forum, hosted by Planned Parenthood’s political arm, showcased the broad support among the 20 candidates in attendance for passing a federal law guaranteeing abortion rights, allowing federal funding for abortions, and expanding access to women’s healthcare, especially for poor and marginalized women.
“I got into politics because there are too many communities who are being left out and left behind,” said New Jersey Senator Cory Booker. “And a lot of these assaults on reproductive care are really assaults on low-income women and women in marginalized communities.”
So far this cycle, the parade of 2020 Democrats has sought to reclaim the reins of this politically sensitive issue with proactive proposals following a spate of restrictive anti-abortion bills sweeping across conservative states.
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 60% of voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 28% saying abortion should be legal in all cases, matching the highest level of support since the question was first asked in 2004. Only 13% of voters believe abortion should be illegal in the case of rape or incest.
But the ascent of two conservative judges to the Supreme Court under President Donald Trump has also raised hopes among abortion opponents that Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that guarantees abortion rights, might eventually be knocked down.
“We’ve been on defense for 47 years, and it’s not working,” said Massachusetts Senator Elisabeth Warren, who received one of the warmest receptions of the day. “We need to go on offense on Roe v. Wade.”
President Donald Trump, who formally launched his own re-election campaign this week, has adopted rules that hinder the work of abortion providers, including barring health clinics that receive federal funds from making referrals for abortions or sharing office space with abortion providers.
Along with Elizabeth Warren and Cory Booker, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Kamala Harris of California have offered detailed plans for safeguarding abortion. Rep. Eric Swalwell of California has a plan for free contraception, while former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has a plan for expanding access to IUD’s.
The three candidates not in attendance – Steve Bullock, Tulsi Gabbard and Wayne Messam – have all in their campaigns expressed broadly similar views. Gabbard, for her part, used to lean more anti-abortion, but as a member of congress, she has a 100% rating from Planned Parenthood.
Many of the candidates said that a particular failing of healthcare in America is that poor, marginalized and black women are denied access to care.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who represented an area along Texas’ border with Mexico, likened a Trump administration policy that makes it harder for immigrant women to access reproductive healthcare to something out of the dystopian show “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
“Trying to force young women into only one option, not allowing them to make their own decisions about their own body,” O’Rourke said, was “haunting, chilling, reminiscent of maybe a scene from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” not the United States of America in 2018 and 2019.”
The forum also presented an opportunity for several candidates who have clashed with abortion rights activists in the past to explain themselves.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who recently came under fire for saying he supported the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of federal funds for most abortion care — and then abruptly changed course — said his position is that women should have the same access to health care, regardless of where they live.
“I laid out of health care plan that is going to provide federally-funded health care for all women, and women who now are denied even Medicare in their home states across the board up, you’d be automatically signed up under [an] Obamacare-like provision,” he said.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, when asked about his past support for some anti-abortion candidates, said that recent news has shifted his thinking on the issue.
“I think, right now, given the attacks that we’re seeing, in recent years, on Planned Parenthood, in particular, and on abortion rights in general, I think what we can do and must do is find candidates in every state in this country and every congressional district in this country who do support absolutely a woman’s right to control her own body.”
In addition to offering their views on policy, the candidates also heard from women who recounted harrowing stories of abuse and others who recounted stories about their own abortions.
Near the start of the forum, a women recounted to Gillibrand, the senator from New York, how, at age 19, she had tried to throw herself down a flight of stairs in an effort to terminate her pregnancy. The senator responded by saying the story was “shared by millions of people,” and the attack on freedoms undermines the humanity of marginalized women.
“No legislature in any one of these states, which are mostly white men, mostly older men, they cannot know a minute of your experience,” Gillibrand said. “Not a minute of your experience as a mother, a minute of your experience as someone [who] has to make that decision.”
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