Democratic presidential candidates struggled to respond when asked if pro-life politicians have a place in the party during a debate on Wednesday night. The candidates did, however, did pledge their support for abortion and exhorted voters to do the same.
“I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), said at Wednesday night’s debate hosted by NBC News in Atlanta.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) challenged men to support abortion as a pro-woman issue. “Well let me just tell you that if there’s ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment,” he said.
Democratic presidential candidates faced off in the fifth debate in advance of the 2020 elections, in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday night. They were questioned by moderators from MSNBC and NBC News on health care, immigration, voting laws, climate change, and other issues.
Towards the end of the debate, moderator and MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow brought up the topic of abortion.
Maddow asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) if, in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court and the states have the authority to outlaw abortion, she would “intervene as president” to preserve abortion access in states where it “disappears.”
“Well, of course,” Klobuchar replied, calling for a codification of Roe into law at the federal level. Several candidates, including Warren and fellow frontrunner Joe Biden, have called for federal legislation on abortion rights in their campaign platform to prevent states from limiting the practice it in the event of a furture Supreme Court decision.
Maddow then asked if there is “room” in the Democratic Party for pro-life candidates, citing the re-election of Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards this past weekend; Edwards is outspoken in support of the pro-life cause and signed a “heartbeat” bill into law that banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually around six to eight weeks in a pregnancy.
“Is there room in the Democratic Party for someone like him?” Maddow asked Warren. “Someone who can win in a deep red state, but who does not support abortion rights?”
Warren said that “abortion rights are human rights” but did not specifically address the matter of pro-life candidates in the party. She did say that the party is “fundamentally” about preserving abortion access.
“Protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” Warren said.
Maddow followed up by asking “Is there room for [Edwards] in the Democratic Party with those politics?”
Warren answered, “I have made clear what I think the Democratic Party stands for.” She added that “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party. I’m not here to try to build fences.”
“I want to be an America where everybody has a chance,” Warren said of abortion access.
In addition to calling for legislative codefication of Roe, Warren also called for federal laws to overturn state regulations of abortion such as “geographical, physical, and procedural restrictions and requirements” and “restrictions on medication abortion.”
She has also supported taxpayer funding of elective abortions, coverage of abortion and contraceptives in health plans and in Medicare-for-All, services to educate and inform women about abortion access, and protections against workplace discrimination of abortion.
During the debate, the president of the organization Democrats for Life of America, Kristen Day, tweeted that in “talking to dems on the ground” in Atlanta, she was “surprised about how many people do not know that their candidate supports late-term abortion.”
The pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List tweeted that “79% of Americans OPPOSE late-term abortion” and that the “candidates’ abortion extremism is a major political vulnerability in November 2020.”
While late-term abortions were not a specific topic of discussion at Wednesday’s debate, candidates did not elaborate on any proposed limits to abortion access.
Sen. Corey Booker (D-N.J.) said that the matter of state abortion laws “is a voting issue” and “a voter suppression issue,” claiming that Georgia’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lost her 2018 race against current governor Brian Kemp because of “voter suppression, particularly of African-American communities.”
“The ‘heartbeat’ bill here, opposed by over 70% of Georgians, is the result of voter suppression,” Booker said of Georgia’s “heartbeat” law that outlawed abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. Gov. Kemp signed the bill into law in May, but the law was temporarily prevented from going into effect by a federal judge.
Booker implied that Gov. Kemp used the law as a weapon against the African-American community in Georgia. “When you have undemocratic means, when you suppress peoples’ votes to get elected, those are the very people you’re going to come after when you’re in office,” Booker said of the “heartbeat” bill.
Day tweeted in response that “If Stacey Abrams had taken a moderate position on abortion, she would have won,” referring to the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election.
“The only Democratic Governor in the south is a pro-life Democrat. Abortion extremism & an abortion litmus test suppresses votes,” Day tweeted, referring to John Bel Edwards in Louisiana.
Edwards won his race with a high turnout of the African-American vote.
In an interview with local NPR affiliate WRKF, Edwards’ campaign consultant Greg Rigamer said that the African-American turnout in the election was higher in number than in the previous gubernatorial race, although representing a smaller share of the overall vote. Edwards, he said, “got literally-- unequivocally-- over 98% of the African American votes.”