The outcry over Alabama’s abortion ban has exposed a major gap: While Democratic presidential hopefuls are fired up about the recently-passed law, few have laid out their own proposals on reproductive rights.
Since Democrats are typically seen as united on the issue of abortion, the policy specifics are an area that candidates have often glossed over in the past.
Pro-abortion advocates, however, are calling for this to change: “We need to hear from all of candidates what their plan is, not [just] that they’re with us on the values [front], which is really important,” NARAL president Ilyse Hogue said during a press call on Thursday, noting that the policy to protect abortion rights is a “technical” issue with thorny questions that candidates need to carefully address.
“It needs more than words, it needs a well-thought-out policy plan,” Hogue added.
Presidential candidates have recently stepped up their attention to the issue as Alabama became one of the latest states to approve severe restrictions to women’s reproductive rights, barring abortion in almost all cases except when a woman’s life is in danger. The state’s new law goes even further than others passed in Georgia and Ohio in recent weeks, all of which supporters say are designed to challenge the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case that established a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion.
Many 2020 hopefuls swiftly came out against the Alabama law, calling the measure “dangerous and exceptionally cruel,” and pledging to fight it. Across the immensely large Democratic field, the candidates are widely on the same page: They all lambasted the law’s constitutionality and promised that it would be overturned. (The states’ abortion laws are broadly expected to see challenges in court, and they won’t take effect for several months.)
What’s been less common to see among the candidates, however, is concrete policy platforms that address protections for women’s reproductive health. Of the two dozen presidential candidates, Vox was only able to find 10 who actually laid out positions on reproductive rights or even mentioned the issue on their campaign websites. A handful of others have added detail to their responses in public appearances and on Twitter this week.
While a Democratic president couldn’t single-handedly turn back the clock on the state-led effort to chip away at Roe, there are several important areas where he or she could have an impact.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has made gender equality and the #MeToo movement defining issues of her 2020 campaign, has proposed exclusively appointing federal judges who are committed to backing Roe v. Wade, for example. She’s also one of several candidates who’s called for codifying Roe v. Wade into law and repealing the Hyde Amendment, which blocks Medicaid spending on abortions in almost all cases.
This week’s shocking legislative updates underscore just how large the focus on abortion rights could be as the 2020 campaign gets underway. Yet, while nearly all of the candidates raised concerns about the Alabama restrictions, a much smaller number appear to have specific plans about how they would actually confront the issue.
There are only ten candidates who mention reproductive rights on their websites
Of the 24 — and counting — Democrats who have declared, just ten mention the need to prioritize reproductive rights on their campaign websites. Among those, only four offered more detailed policy plans.
Sens. Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are three candidates who’ve laid out concrete proposals on the issue on their sites, along with former Sen. Mike Gravel. The remaining candidates have yet to do so, though several others — Sen. Kamala Harris, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, businessman Andrew Yang, author Marianne Williamson and Mayor Wayne Messam — address the subject in some capacity. (Multiple 2020 candidates have supported bills that address abortion rights in the past, but have not included the issue on their campaign websites.)
Thus far, the 2020 candidates who do offer a platform on the subject vary slightly. As part of their positions on gender equity, both Gillibrand and Sanders commit to appointing judges who would preserve Roe v. Wade (a litmus test that captures the importance of the judiciary in these fights, but not one that all candidates have united behind yet). Gillibrand and Warren also pledge to overturn the Hyde Amendment and the broader gag rule the Trump administration has imposed, which limits health care providers who provide abortions from receiving federal funding for family planning.
Gravel’s site, meanwhile, offers a couple more sweeping policy ideas on the subject, perhaps in keeping with his overall campaign strategy of running not to get elected to but to inject progressive ideas into the discussion. They include passing a constitutional amendment that would guarantee all Americans personal autonomy when it comes to abortion rights, the use of contraception, and gender transition. His platform also notes the need to undo laws that limit the coverage that health care insurers can provide for abortions.
In the wake of the Alabama law’s passage, lawmakers have laid out additional proposals in campaign appearances or on Twitter. Sen. Cory Booker has called for Roe v. Wade to be enshrined into law, as has former Gov. John Hickenlooper, Gillibrand and Warren.
Others, including Rep. Seth Moulton, have followed Gillibrand’s lead and said they won’t appoint judges that oppose Roe v. Wade. And a slew of candidates including Harris, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Rep. Eric Swalwell have helped raise additional funds to support abortion rights groups like the Yellowhammer Fund.
Abortion rights activists have previously said that they’d like to see more particulars from the candidates overall. “What is their visionary proposal, particularly when clinics are being shuttered in the states and people have to do these ridiculous 72-hour waiting periods?” Renee Bracey Sherman, a reproductive justice advocate, asked ThinkProgress. For many advocates, candidates’ support for abortion rights has been important, but it only starts to truly address the issue.
Here’s what every 2020 candidate has laid out on reproductive rights so far
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY): Gillibrand was the first 2020er to commit to appointing judges that back Roe v. Wade; she’s called the Alabama law an “existential threat to the human rights of women;” and she pledges to undo a gag rule the Trump administration instituted barring physicians who receive federal funding from providing patients with information about abortions.
On Thursday, she unveiled a more comprehensive plan for preserving reproductive rights that includes codifying Roe v. Wade into law, preempting state laws that restrict access to abortion clinics and repealing the Hyde amendment, which prevents individuals from using Medicaid to cover abortion costs.
“It’s time for [the] conversation to be led by the actual experts: women and doctors,” she writes. Gillibrand also helped introduce a Senate measure that would repeal the Hyde Amendment.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT): Sanders addresses reproductive rights as part of a gender equity agenda on his campaign website, which includes appointing federal judges that back women’s fundamental rights and “fund[ing]Planned Parenthood, Title X, and other initiatives that protect women’s health, access to contraception, and the availability of a safe and legal abortion.”
He referred to the Alabama abortion ban as an “utter disgrace” and has noted that Medicare-for-All would ensure that women’s reproductive health was covered by insurance. Reproductive care, covered by Medicare-for-All would not be subject to the Hyde Amendment’s restrictions on federal funding for abortions. Sanders has yet to sign onto a Senate measure to repeal the Hyde amendment.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA): On her campaign website, Harris highlights her track record, and says she is fighting to ensure that “reproductive rights are not just protected by the Constitution of the United States but guaranteed in every state.” She doesn’t, however, include details on policy proposals tied to this issue.
Harris has criticized the Alabama law and emphasized that “women’s health care is under attack,” comparing the recent developments to the TV show The Handmaid’s Tale, in a recent fundraising email. She’s previously helped introduce a Senate measure to block the Hyde Amendment.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA): Warren unveiled a detailed abortion rights policy proposal on Friday.
As Vox’s Anna North writes, that plan includes a push to enshrine the right to abortion in federal statute, support for repealing the Hyde Amendment and backing for federal legislation that prevents states from passing medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion clinics. Much like Gillibrand, she proposes a reversal of the Trump administration’s domestic gag rule, which bars providers that receive federal family planning funds from performing or referring patients for abortions.
Warren signed on as a sponsor on a Senate measure to block the Hyde amendment this week. She has also said she supports appointing federal judges who “support the law and respect cases like Roe v. Wade.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): Klobuchar does not include any mention of reproductive rights on her campaign website, though she’s slammed the Alabama law noting that it’s “wrong” and “unconstitutional.”
Klobuchar was among the lawmakers who helped introduce a Senate measure to block the Hyde Amendment.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NY): Booker does not address reproductive rights on his campaign website, but he’s offered a vocal response condemning the Alabama law, calling on other men to express their concerns and “fight this attack on women’s reproductive rights the same way that women have been doing.”
In an interview with BuzzFeed News earlier this week, Booker emphasized that Roe v. Wade should be enshrined as law itself and also committed to backing judges that would uphold the landmark court decision. He’s pushed for the rollback of the Hyde Amendment as well, though he’s not yet listed as a cosponsor of a Senate measure to do so.
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg has a brief section addressing reproductive rights on his campaign website, where he expresses support for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He’s come out strongly against the Alabama law, and he broadly emphasized the need for “comprehensive affordable [health] care that includes safe and legal abortion.”
Former Vice President Joe Biden: Biden has no mention of reproductive rights on his campaign website, but he’s condemned the new restrictions that have been passed in multiple states. He’s been criticized for supporting the Hyde Amendment in the past.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke: O’Rourke references the need to back universal health care that enables every woman to make decisions about her body on his campaign website. He referred to the Alabama law as a “radical attack on women” and has previously supported a House bill that would repeal the Hyde Amendment.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO): Bennet does not address reproductive rights on his campaign website, and has come out against the Alabama abortion ban, noting that “it’s no one’s choice to make but their own.”
He’s not currently a sponsor of the Senate measure to block the Hyde Amendment.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock: Bullock does not include any reference to reproductive rights on his campaign site, though he’s mentioned his track record defending abortion rights as Montana governor in posts that push back against the Alabama law. “As governor, I’ve stopped every attack on a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions, and that’s exactly what I’ll do as president,” he noted.
Andrew Yang: One of Yang’s approximately 100 supplementary policy briefs on his campaign website is devoted to defending the rights to contraception and abortion. He’s also argued that legislative oversight of abortion access should be informed by trained physicians and not legislators without a medical background.
Yang noted that reproductive rights and freedoms “should be up to women,” in his response to the Alabama law.
Marianne Williamson: Williamson has a dedicated section on her campaign website for reproductive rights, and notes that she would resist any efforts that are intended to undo Roe v. Wade. She urged women to “rise” in response to the Alabama law and has told ThinkProgress she supports using federal dollars to pay for abortions.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee: Inslee’s campaign website does not tackle reproductive rights. Following the vote on the Alabama abortion ban, he tweeted out that the ban was an “abomination” that would bring us “back to the dark ages of reproductive rights.” Inslee has previously told ThinkProgress he supports using federal dollars to pay for abortions.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper: Although Hickenlooper did not have any policy to address reproductive rights on his website, he called for Roe v. Wade to be enshrined into law after Alabama’s abortion ban was passed.
Hickenlooper has also expressed that he will challenge strict abortion bans in court. During a CNN town hall held in March earlier in March, he addressed another restrictive abortion bill in Georgia and said it would be “met with litigation immediately” if he were elected. He’s previously told ThinkProgress he supports using federal dollars to pay for abortions.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA): Reproductive rights aren’t a part of Swalwell’s campaign issues on his website. In response to the Alabama abortion ban, he encouraged his Twitter followers to mobilize by donating to The Yellowhammer Fund, a local organization that provides funding for abortions in Alabama. He has signed on as a cosponsor of a House bill to roll back the Hyde Amendment.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH): Ryan’s website doesn’t mention reproductive rights. When the Alabama bill passed, he expressed his outrage on Twitter, questioning how doctors could receive more prison time than rapists.
Ryan, who went to Catholic School in northeast Ohio, went into Congress pro-life. He told Buzzfeed News’ AM to DM, however, that he changed his mind when he met women who were in difficult circumstances and announced his switch to pro-choice in 2015. Ryan has said he supports backing judges that uphold Roe v. Wade and cosponsored a House bill to roll back the Hyde Amendment.
Seth Moulton (D-MA): Moulton’s website doesn’t address reproductive rights with detailed policy. He did, however, signal his commitment in a tweet to nominate judges that would uphold Roe v. Wade and urged other candidates to do the same. Moulton is also the cosponsor of a House bill to repeal the Hyde Amendment.
Former US housing secretary Julián Castro: Castro does not address reproductive rights on his official 2020 website, but he condemned the Alabama abortion bill and called for repealing the Hyde Amendment.
Castro most recently supported a Planned Parenthood South Texas fundraiser in San Antonio by serving as honorary chair at the annual luncheon. During the event, he praised the organization for doing “such important work.”
Rep. John Delaney (D-MD): There are no mentions of reproductive rights on Delaney’s official 2020 website, but he took to Twitter to express his opposition against the Alabama abortion bill. He ended his series of tweets by stating, “I will fight for women’s rights every single day and every step of the way.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI): Gabbard has yet to comment on the Alabama bill. There are no mentions of reproductive rights or women health on her official 2020 website. She’s previously told ThinkProgress she supports using federal dollars to pay for abortions.
Former Sen. Mike Gravel: Gravel’s website has a detailed list of plans to address reproductive rights. He said the United States should pass an amendment in the constitution, potentially as part of an updated Equal Rights Amendment, to guarantee the right to contraception, safe and legal abortion, and gender transition. He also called for banning crisis pregnancy centers, which “manipulate and shame women,” and replacing them with government-funded clinics instead.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio: De Blasio, who just launched his campaign on Thursday, has yet to set up an official website that addresses issues. In a tweet released a day before his campaign launch, the New York City mayor criticized Alabama’s abortion ban as “vile and illegal.”
Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam: Messam addresses reproductive rights briefly on his campaign website, writing: “I trust women to make their own decisions when it comes to their health. Period.”
He’s argued that the government should not intervene in abortion access in response to the Alabama law and previously told ThinkProgress he supports using federal dollars to pay for abortions.