Elections

The 2020 Democrats’ Extremism on Abortion

Candidates in a Democratic presidential debate, Atlanta, Ga., November 20, 2019 (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Only one candidate says he supports any restrictions after fetal viability.

The New York Times has surveyed all 2020 Democratic presidential candidates on the issue of abortion and come to the conclusion that the field “has coalesced around an abortion rights agenda more far-reaching than anything past nominees have proposed.” “The positions reflect a hugely consequential shift on one of the country’s most politically divisive issues,” Maggie Astor writes.

Among the top-tier candidates, Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders want to force all private insurers to cover elective abortions, and they all want to make the abortion drugs misoprostol and mifepristone available over the counter. Joe Biden did not provide an answer to either of these questions.

All of the candidates favor repealing the Hyde amendment in order to provide unlimited taxpayer funding of elective abortions for Medicaid recipients. Only South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg says that, as a practical matter, he’d be willing to sign a budget that includes the Hyde amendment, while the other candidates dodge the question. (The Hyde amendment is attached to legislation that can be filibustered, and refusing to sign an appropriations bill that includes it would force a government shutdown.)

Among the entire field, “only Tulsi Gabbard, Joe Sestak and Marianne Williamson now say abortion should be ‘safe, legal and rare’— a phrase, popularized by President Bill Clinton and repeated by Hillary Clinton, that reflected a search for common ground with people not fully supportive of abortion rights.” Other candidates prefer to call for abortion to be “affordable” or “accessible” rather than “rare.”

Perhaps most striking of all, the Times reports: “Asked if they supported restrictions after 24 weeks — roughly when a healthy fetus can survive outside the womb, though viability varies from pregnancy to pregnancy — only Mr. Sestak said yes. (Ms. Gabbard, who did not complete the survey, has also said she supports restrictions in the third trimester.)”

Compare the 2020 Democrats with the last Democratic presidential candidate who won the White House. Here’s what Barack Obama told a Christian magazine in 2008 after he had effectively wrapped up the nomination:

I have repeatedly said that I think it’s entirely appropriate for states to restrict or even prohibit late-term abortions as long as there is a strict, well-defined exception for the health of the mother. Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term. Otherwise, as long as there is such a medical exception in place, I think we can prohibit late-term abortions.

The only thing Joe Biden has going for him is his association with Barack Obama, but he is apparently unwilling to now associate himself with Obama’s position abortion in 2008. In the 1990s, Biden said he would like to “ban all post-viability abortions,” but now his campaign is dodging the question on whether he supports any restrictions on aborting viable babies. The rest of the top-tier candidates — Buttigieg, Warren, and Sanders — forthrightly oppose any restrictions after 24 weeks of pregnancy.

It’s quite odd that Tulsi Gabbard thinks abortion should sometimes be restricted after 28 weeks (the start of the third trimester), but she will not say if she supports restrictions after 24 weeks. The third-trimester distinction is a relic of the medical capabilities of the 1970s. When a plurality of Supreme Court justices declared in the (constitutionally and morally unsound) Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision in 1992 that there is a right to abortion after viability, they wrote that the “soundness or unsoundness of that constitutional judgment in no sense turns on whether viability occurs at approximately 28 weeks, as was usual at the time of Roe, at 23 to 24 weeks, as it sometimes does today, or at some moment even slightly earlier in pregnancy, as it may if fetal respiratory capacity can somehow be enhanced in the future.” (As the Times has acknowledged in earlier articles, viability has now moved up to 22 weeks into pregnancy.)

Out of all the candidates running for president in 2020, only Joe Sestak (a candidate most Democrats have never heard of) is willing to tell the Times he favors some modest legal restrictions on abortion after viability.

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