A near-total abortion ban passed by Alabama state lawmakers Tuesday is pushing the issue of abortion access to the forefront of the 2020 presidential primary, signaling a potential turning point in a campaign that has so far largely focused on health care access, the economy, and climate change.
Alabama’s legislation comes at the heels of an onslaught of anti-abortion measures that have gained traction among state legislators. Over 300 anti-abortion bills have been introduced this state legislative session, according to data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research organization. Last week, Georgia became the fourth state this year to pass a so-called “fetal heartbeat” ban, a restriction on abortions after a heartbeat is detected in the womb, which happens about five or six weeks into a pregnancy.
Democratic candidates and strategists see the state measures as part of a larger plan to put a challenge to abortion in front of a Supreme Court that has tilted towards conservatives during the Trump administration.
“I think this is a key moment where I hope every candidate realizes this may be law of the land, but that precedent could be at stake and it’s time to speak out,” said Christina Reynolds, vice president for communications for Emily’s List, a group that aims to elect pro-abortion rights women. “This made the threat definitely more real. It wakes people up.”
At the same time, the Democratic presidential candidates offered few concrete solutions for how they would fight Alabama’s abortion ban.
Public polling shows that even though Americans are equally divided over abortion, the recent measures are at odds with public opinion. A Gallup survey on abortion showed that among anti-abortion rights Americans, 57 percent favor exceptions for cases of rape of incest.
Republicans have traditionally been effective at mobilizing their base voters around the issue of abortion, the Supreme Court, and judicial nominations. Such issues helped coalesce the party around Donald Trump, and fueled support for him among the evangelical community. The appointment of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, which shifted the ideological makeup of the court, put the reality in stark terms for Democrats. And now, moves by state legislatures are applying additional pressure points.
By Wednesday afternoon, nearly every presidential candidate weighed in on the issue. Here’s a sampling of their arguments.
After Tuesday night’s vote in Alabama, New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand announced plans to travel to Georgia on Thursday to meet with abortion providers, health experts, pro-abortion rights activists and legislators. Earlier this month, she pledged to only nominate judges who would uphold Roe V. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
“We’re facing an all-out assault on women’s constitutional rights, explicitly aimed at overturning Roe v. Wade,” Gillibrand said Wednesday. “We need to loudly proclaim that reproductive rights are non-negotiable, and join together to defend them at every level—in Washington, in the courts, and in the states.”
Campaigning in New Hampshire on Wednesday, California Sen. Kamala Harris said, “on this day where we saw what happened in Alabama, let us all agree that women’s healthcare is under attack and we will not stand for it. We will not stand for it.”
She also sent an email to supporters urging them to donate to abortion rights groups. “I’m sick and tired of this outright assault on women’s bodily autonomy–we will fight this with everything we’ve got,” she said.
While campaigning in Ohio over the weekend, the Massachusetts senator was asked about what she would do to protect abortion rights. “When I was a little girl, it was a time when back alley abortions killed people. And when young women, girls really, killed themselves rather than face an unplanned pregnancy. We’re not going back–not now, not ever,” she said.
On Wednesday, Warren tweeted a video of her talking about this issue and urging her supporters to speak out. “Republican men are on the march to overturn Roe v. Wade…and with Donald Trump stacking the courts with judges who oppose abortion, that could be a real possibility.”
In an interview Wednesday with Sirius XM’s Joe Madison Show, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker called the measure a “frontal assault on women’s reproductive rights, on women’s freedom and liberty.”
“Not only am I 100 percent against it, but it makes me double down on my determination frankly to become President of the United States and make sure that we pass the kind of federal laws that prevent the erosion of women’s rights,” Booker said.
On Wednesday, Booker tweeted that it was incumbent upon men to speak out as well. “Men, it’s on us to speak out too. It’s on us to take action. Not because women are our mothers, wives, daughters. Because women are people. And all people deserve to control their own bodies.”
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said in a local interview Wednesday that the moves are “part of a strategy to get this to a Supreme Court that has obviously been changed since the last time the court heard these issues.”
In an email to supporters Wednesday, Buttigieg wrote: “The government’s role should be to make sure all women have access to comprehensive affordable care, and that includes preventive care, contraceptive services, prenatal through postpartum care, and safe and legal abortion.”
On Wednesday, former Vice President Joe Biden said Republicans are “ushering in laws that clearly violate Roe v. Wade and they should be declared unconstitutional. Roe v. Wade is settled law and should not be overturned. This choice should remain between a woman and her doctor.”
On Wednesday morning, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar called Alabama’s new law “wrong” on Wednesday morning adding, “what they did in Alabama,is unconstitutional. The precedent is clear.”
“They’ve decided they’re going to take away a woman’s basic right to make a decision and I think it’s wrong,” Klobuchar said to reporters at the Capitol.
The Senator referred to abortion as a “civil right.”
“This is about our constitution and this is about a Supreme Court precedent called Roe v. Wade that we have supported in this country,” Klobuchar said to reporters. “People can have individual disagreements hit as elected officials you’re supposed to be following the law.”
The former Texas representative took to Twitter late Tuesday night to denounce Alabama’s new ban, calling it “unconstitutional” and “a radical attack on women across Alabama and America.”
“We won’t back down when it comes to fully protecting Roe v. Wade, fighting dangerous efforts to roll back reproductive health care and defending a woman’s right to access an abortion,” O’Rourke wrote on Twitter. “We will fight these dangerous efforts with everything we’ve got in legislatures across the country, in the courts, and at the ballot box. We will win.”
O’Rourke directed his followers to donate to Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics “that provide critical health care to millions.”
Julián Castro voiced his opposition to the bill on Twitter Tuesday night, calling the vote “appalling news.”
“It’s time to stand up and speak out,” the former Housing and Urban Development Secretary tweeted. “We must defeat this unconstitutional and shameless attempt to strip women of their right to make health care choices.”
Sarah Ewall-Wice contributed to this report