Why the moderators of Thursday’s Democratic debate must #AskAboutAbortion

Feb 10, 2016 · 5 min read

Update: As of 3/7/16, there have now been seven Democratic Debates and still ZERO questions about abortion. Our original post, from 2/10/16, is below.

At the last few Democratic presidential debates, the moderators have found time to ask about a whole host of questions, from solid, newsworthy topics like the economy, health care and #BlackLivesMatter to, shall we say, less sophisticated questions — like the role each candidate’s spouse would play in the White House.

But still, not a single question about abortion rights has been asked at ANY of the five Democratic debates. Not ONE.

PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff will make up the first all-woman moderating team of any debate so far when they drill the candidates this Thursday night at 9 p.m. EST. The time is now: We’re calling on the moderators to finally, FINALLY, #AskAboutAbortion.

Here’s why this conversation is so necessary: In just three short weeks, the Supreme Court will hear the case out of Texas that could redefine abortion access for a generation. The justices will decide whether states can effectively ban abortion by making it impossible for any health clinic to keep its doors open. In the first few weeks of 2016 alone, state legislatures have introduced 147 choice-related bills. That’s an average of five per day. If elected president, what would each candidate do if half the abortion clinics in the country closed overnight?

We deserve a response to the horrifying trend of anti-choice violence our country has been experiencing, most recently with an uptick of arson attacks at abortion clinics over the summer. This heart-wrenching trend culminated over Thanksgiving weekend 2015, when a gunman opened fire at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three and injuring nine. He would later tell prosecutors he considered himself “a warrior for the babies.” Do the candidates consider clinic violence to be domestic terrorism, and if so, how will they respond?

The candidates have, of late, been competing to see who’s more progressive — and that’s a welcome shift in the dialogue. But voters need to know how, in the candidates’ views, abortion rights play a role in the progressive cause as a whole. Consider the millions of women in this country who rely on Medicaid and other health insurance programs run by the government, who are already barred from using their insurance to cover the cost of abortion. Low-income people and women of color are overwhelmingly affected by the Hyde amendment’s discriminatory practices. What would the candidates’ plans to repeal the Hyde amendment look like, and how would they work with a hostile Congress to get it done?

These are just a few examples of the types of questions we need answered — there are numerous other options and possibilities. But the point is, these questions surround one central theme: They would all allow us to see how the candidates plan to empower women to make decisions for their lives and families. It’s about giving women the autonomy they deserve to be in charge of their own bodies, and giving them the chance to achieve the American Dream — whatever that may look like to them — because they get to decide if and when to become a parent.

Now, lately, a lot of people have been asking why it’s important to have the two Democratic candidates debate abortion rights, when they both clearly have strong pro-choice voting records.

Here’s why: Being *just* pro-choice is not enough anymore. Not now, when we face an anti-choice majority in Congress and anti-choice state governments and a field of rabidly anti-choice GOP presidential candidates who are determined to outlaw abortion.

What’s important now is a presidential candidate’s willingness to go above and beyond, to demonstrate that he or she will be champion of reproductive freedom and will take bold action to make sure legal abortion is available and accessible for all. We need a candidate who has a clear understanding of the intersectionality of reproductive freedom and economic justice — a candidate who knows that the middle class can’t be empowered and the economy can’t be strengthened without abortion access, and who doesn’t relegate abortion rights to the “social issues” category.

A woman’s right to choose is central to the values we hold dear as Americans — the ability to plan one’s future and control one’s own destiny, the power to decide when and if and how to become a parent and start a family.

The voters deserve a chance to watch Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton race to the top on this issue.

Protecting a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion, as affirmed in Roe v. Wade, is a central tenet of the Democratic Party’s platform and is held dear by the 7 in 10 Americans, women and men, who support legal abortion and who vote every election cycle. Thankfully, both candidates on this side of the aisle are pro-choice — but let’s hear their specific plans to protect and advance reproductive freedom. We deserve as much.

We need a president who will prioritize appointing pro-choice Supreme Court justices, who will uphold Roe v. Wade and protect and expand abortion access across the country.

We need a president who will work tirelessly to ensure that women getting health care and the doctors who provide it are safe — and hold accountable those who would see otherwise.

We need a president who will, once and for all, guarantee that where a woman works or how much money she makes doesn’t impact her ability to plan her future or her family.

So far, the Democratic presidential debates have ignored the crisis in reproductive freedom altogether. But they can’t continue to be held in a vacuum, in some alternate reality where abortion isn’t being held hostage every single day by radical, anti-choice extremists who would see abortion outlawed.

Enough is enough.

We cannot allow another debate to be held without abortion rights being addressed, head-on.

Like every other economic, political or progressive issue the debates have dignified with a question, this topic is more than worthy of our candidates’ attention and any network’s airtime.

As voters, we deserve more this election. We deserve to have our voices be heard and to have this important economic issue raised and thoughtfully debated on a national stage.

Speak up. Add your name to tell the Democratic Debate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion this Thursday.


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NARAL Pro-Choice America fights to protect the right to choose. Join us!

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