The first question about reproductive health care and abortion rights finally came up on Tuesday night during the Democratic presidential debate in Ohio.
Seven of the 12 candidates on stage discussed how they planned to approach reproductive health if voted into office in the wake of recent anti-abortion legislation passed in several states across the country. Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), as well as South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro weighed in on the first question about abortion rights in the Democratic presidential debates.
Gabbard, Klobuchar and Warren agreed that Roe v. Wade, the historic 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions in the U.S., should be codified. Both Buttigieg and Castro supported enforcing term limits for Supreme Court justices and de-politicizing the court as much as possible.
Booker said that if he were voted in as president he would create an office of reproductive freedom that would oversee reproductive protections. The senator from New Jersey also pointed out that the attack on reproductive rights is about privilege as much as it is about sexism.
“First of all, let’s be clear about these laws we see from Alabama to Ohio,” Booker said. “They’re not just attacks on one of the most sacrosanct ideals in our country — liberty, the ability to control your own body — but they are particularly another example of people trying to punish, trying to penalize, trying to criminalize poverty.”
“Because this is disproportionately affecting low-income women in this country, people in rural areas in this country, it is an assault on the most fundamental ideal that human beings should control their own body,” he added.
Most of the candidates did not use the word “abortion” and instead chose to use more encompassing and less controversial terms, like reproductive rights and reproductive health care. Gabbard and Warren were the only two candidates to use the word “abortion.”
Warren later piggybacked on Booker’s point, adding that when abortion was illegal, rich women were still able to get abortions.
“I lived in an America where abortion was illegal and rich women still got abortions because they could travel and go places where it was legal,” she said. “What we’re talking about now is people who are denied access to abortion are the poor, are the young, are the 14-year-olds molested by a family member.”
She added that a woman’s right to choose should not be left to the Supreme Court but should be done “through democracy, because we can.”
Klobuchar took a moment to address Donald Trump directly, telling the audience what she would say to the president if he were on the stage on Tuesday night.
“You know what I would say to him? I’d say, ‘You said you wanted to do this, in your race for president. You actually said that you wanted to put women in jail and then you tried to dial it back and said you wanted to put doctors in jails. That’s exactly what the Alabama law is,’” she said. “You, Donald Trump, are not on the side of women.”
In the last six months, states including Georgia, Ohio and Missouri have all banned abortion as early as the first trimester. Alabama passed the strictest abortion restriction in the country in May, banning the procedure in all cases, including rape and incest. The only exception is if the life of the pregnant woman is at risk. Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers were considering the death penalty for any woman who gets an abortion.
Harris was the first to bring up reproductive rights earlier in the night when moderators asked about health care access.
“This is the sixth debate we have had in this presidential cycle and not nearly one word ― with all of these discussions about health care ― on women’s access to reproductive health care, which is under full-on attack in America today,” she said.
“It is not an exaggeration to say women will die — poor women, women of color will die,” Harris added. “Because these Republican legislatures in these various states who are out of touch with America are telling women what to do with our bodies.”