In the midst of ongoing, and escalating, attacks on reproductive justice across the country, abortion finally became an issue of (primary) debate.
In spite of recent analysis showing that reproductive rights and other feminist issues are largely absent from presidential debates and town halls, the over one dozen contenders seeking to become the Democratic presidential nominee all addressed the anti-abortion laws sweeping the nation and their intentions to protect Roe v. Wade during their side-by-side debates this week.
Data also shows that it’s a conversation voters have been waiting for. According to a recent CNN poll, eight out of 10 caucus-going Democrats in Iowa called support for abortion a “must-have” quality in a candidate, making it leading issue driving their decision. New survey data from Morning Consult found that reproductive issues are rising in importance—increasing in priority by eight percentage points among Democrats and Independent women since May.
These findings echo data that shows abortion is widely supported by Americans. Seven in 10 Americans support abortion rights. In May, a CBS poll found that a majority of Americans don’t want Roe overturned. And a recent study by PBS Newshour, Marist and NPR even determined that escalating attacks on abortion by Republican lawmakers could be driving up support for their political opponents.
These numbers have been noted by most major abortion rights organizations in the wake of the first Democratic debates—in which candidates on both nights discussed their plants to protect and expand abortion access and safeguard Roe.
“Now more than ever, Democrats are galvanized by the unprecedented attacks we’ve seen on reproductive freedom across the country,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement after the first debate. “The Democratic field must use every opportunity to assure voters that protecting our fundamental freedoms is a top priority.”
Candidates have also taken notice of the growing support for abortion among their party’s voters, and among the general public. Beto O’Rourke raised the issue during Wednesday’s debate, unprompted, and was then followed in a show of support by statements by Jay Inselee, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro. The candidates each attempted to position themselves as the most supportive of abortion rights and other reproductive justice issues, including contraception access and LGBTQ-friendly sexual health resources—a unique event for such a major political showcase—but stopped short of promising to extend abortion rights beyond Roe.
Thursday’s debate included a specific question about the landmark Supreme Court case legalizing abortion access, but conversations around the issue during the second round of debates were not confined to that moment. Throughout the night, many of the questions posed encompassed abortion access, including those which centered on healthcare. Nearly every candidate, most notably Kirsten Gillibrand, incorporated reproductive rights in one way or another into responses to questions that weren’t directly related to the topic.
“Roe v. Wade is in jeopardy, endangering a long-standing guarantee that abortion should be safe and legal, despite overwhelming majority support for abortion rights,” Hogue urged in a statement after Thursday’s debate. “This moment calls for bold, creative and robust plans to truly safeguard a woman’s ability to decide if, how and when to raise a family.”
Months ahead of the 2020 elections, and decades after the first nationwide struggle for reproductive freedom that led to the Court’s ruling in Roe, candidates are finally being asked to formulate them.