The Democratic Attorneys General Association announced on Monday that it will only endorse candidates who openly and actively support reproductive rights and abortion care.
Sean Rankin, executive director of DAGA, told reporters in a Monday morning call that the association will not provide financial support or foster strategic partnerships for any AG candidate who has not made a “public declaration” in support of abortion rights.
“We’re proud to announce that starting with the 2020 AG elections, candidates seeking our endorsement and support will need to demonstrate their commitment to standing with the majority of Americans who support reproductive rights, including access to abortion,” Rankin said on a press call Monday.
DAGA, a national political organization that helps elect Democratic candidates running for state attorney general in the U.S., is the first political organization to impose this kind of litmus test on candidates seeking endorsement. There are currently 12 open state attorney general seats in the upcoming 2020 election.
“This is a historic announcement,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said during the Monday press call.
“Attorneys general are in the front lines of the fight to protect our ability to access sexual and reproductive health care,” she added. “They protect people’s rights in and out of courtrooms across the country and they are the ones who fight back against unconstitutional bans on abortion.”
As part of the announcement, DAGA released a video featuring New York Attorney General Letitia James. “Attorneys general are on the front lines of the fight for reproductive freedom. They have the power to protect your rights,” James says in the video.
The litmus test, floated most recently in 2017 by Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, likely won’t have much of an impact at first. Currently, only one of the 27 sitting Democratic attorneys general is not in favor of abortion rights: Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, who has described himself as “pro-life.” The idea of implementing an abortion litmus test for candidates, however, could be adopted by other groups and have a larger effect.
Rankin did acknowledge in the Monday call that some states, mostly red states, make it more difficult for candidates to come out in support of abortion rights. A public declaration is still required for candidates running in more conservative states, but, Rankin added, DAGA will “work with our candidates to think through what the right steps are moving forward” after said declaration.
Former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who served two terms as North Dakota’s attorney general, cautioned imposing litmus tests on Democratic candidates in red states.
“There are very principled people, who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary,” she told The New York Times. “You have to look at the totality of a candidate.”
The Republican Attorneys General Association issued a statement denouncing the litmus test on abortion rights.
“The only litmus test for an attorney general should be a belief in the rule of law and the courage to defend and uphold the Constitution,” RAGA executive director Adam Piper said. “While RAGA is focused on winning elections and the hearts and minds of voters, DAGA is focused on disregarding the rule of law and folding to the demands of extreme special interest groups.”
DAGA’s announcement comes on the heels of a wave of extreme anti-abortion restrictions passed in state legislatures across the country. Over the last year, several states, including Louisiana, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri and Michigan, have banned abortion as early as the first trimester of pregnancy. Alabama passed the strictest abortion restriction in the country in May, banning the procedure in all cases including rape and incest. Earlier this year, Texas lawmakers were considering the death penalty for any person who gets an abortion.
Many elected officials, including district attorneys and attorneys general, have vowed not to enforce their states’ new anti-abortion legislation. In June, over 40 elected officials, including 12 state attorneys general, signed a statement promising not “to prosecute personal healthcare choices criminalized under such laws.”
This article has been updated to include a comment from RAGA executive director Adam Piper.