NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE T he New York Times has released the results from a set of questions posed to each Democratic presidential candidate about his or her views on abortion. Thus far in the primary race, very few of the candidates have been pushed to account for their position on a variety of abortion policies, especially during the debates. The Times should be commended for this effort to get candidates on the record on specific policy questions.
Five candidates did not complete the survey: Montana governor Steve Bullock (who has since exited the race), former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julian Castro, former Maryland congressman John Delaney, Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, and California senator Kamala Harris (who ended her campaign yesterday).
The survey is the first time that most candidates were asked whether they support restrictions on abortion procedures after fetal viability, usually somewhere around 21 weeks’ gestation, the earliest a premature infant has survived. Only Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar suggested that regulations could be acceptable, saying they “must be consistent with Roe v. Wade,” which would allow states to limit abortion in the third trimester with an exception for women’s health. (It’s worth noting that Roe companion case Doe v. Bolton defined “health” expansively to include financial, emotional, and familial health, making it difficult for states to limit abortion practically speaking.)
Most candidates offered some form of a “no,” including Colorado senator Michael Bennet, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, billionaire Tom Steyer, and New Jersey senator Cory Booker. Several candidates offered longer explanations, repeating the common claim that post-viability abortions are rare and only take place in the case of medical emergencies.
“The fact is that less than 1 percent of abortions take place after 24 weeks of pregnancy,” South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg said. “They often involve heartbreaking circumstances in which a person’s health or life is at risk, or when the fetus has a congenital condition that is incompatible with life.”
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren used the same formula. “Only 1.3 percent of abortions take place at 21 weeks or later, and the reasons are heartbreaking,” she said. “20-week abortion bans are dangerous and cruel. They would force women to carry an unviable fetus to term or force women with severe health complications to stay pregnant with their lives on the line.”
Both Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson offered similar responses. It’s worth explaining why these are cop-out answers that obfuscate the truth about late-term abortion. Just over 1 percent of abortions after 20 weeks does sound rare, until you consider that the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute also estimates about 926,000 annual abortions, meaning that 12,000 abortions happen after viability. That means there are more post-viability abortions each year than gun homicides.
Contrary to the Democratic narrative, plenty of women obtain third-trimester abortions for reasons other than a fetal-health condition (and it is certainly debatable whether it’s “medically necessary” to kill unborn human beings with an illness or disability). In this interview, a U.S. doctor who performs third-trimester abortions says “a large percentage of our patients had no idea that they were pregnant” until late in pregnancy and that they then obtain an abortion at her clinic. There are a few clinics in the U.S. that advertise late-term elective abortions, including Southwestern Women’s Options, a facility in Albuquerque, N.M., that performs elective abortions through 32 weeks of pregnancy.
A 2013 Guttmacher article reported that “data suggest that most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” Rather, they most often do so for reasons such as “they were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous.”
These talking points from Democrats are an inaccurate excuse deployed by candidates who refuse to support any regulations on abortion but want to provide cover for that unpopular position by twisting the facts.
On several other key questions, meanwhile, all of the candidates are in lockstep, showcasing that support for nearly unlimited abortion, funded by taxpayers, has become a requirement for Democratic politicians with national aspirations. For example, every candidate said he or she wouldn’t so much as consider a running mate who opposes abortion rights, a signal that there is no room at the top of the party for pro-life Democrats.
Several candidates answered an additional survey question about whether “opponents of abortion rights” should be welcomed as members or candidates in the party. Two non-politician candidates, Williamson and Yang, said the party should be a “big tent” free of litmus tests, and Bennet said the party “is and should be an inclusive one.”
Buttigieg, meanwhile, offered a vague reply seeming to suggest that pro-life Democrats are in fact unwelcome. “Democrats believe every person has the right to make decisions about their own reproductive health and about their body,” he wrote. Warren had a similarly indirect answer: “We should stand up to any politician who tramples on a personal decision that has health and economic security consequences for women, their future and their families.”
Only one candidate, former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak, who has since dropped out of the race, had an answer that articulated what Democrats risk by turning abortion into a litmus test. “In some cases, I think it is appropriate for the Democratic Party to welcome candidates who oppose abortion rights,” Sestak wrote. “Such cases could include candidates running in places where a Democrat who supports abortion rights would be unable to win. . . .”
Consider the recent reelection of Democratic governor John Bel Edwards in Louisiana, who defeated his Republican challenger by a narrow margin in mid November. Of all the heartbeat bills signed into law earlier this year — prohibiting abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually takes place around six weeks’ gestation — only Louisiana’s was signed by a Democrat: Edwards. Without his pro-life bona fides, Edwards almost surely would’ve lost his seat. If most national Democrats got their way, candidates like him would be excised from the party entirely, to the benefit of Republicans.
There was unanimous support among candidates for “codifying” the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe, though it is unclear how they would do so within the bounds of the Constitution. Every survey respondent expressed support for repealing the Hyde Amendment, a rider that prevents federal funds from directly underwriting abortion procedures. Even Joe Biden — who for decades of his public career supported Hyde as a protection for pro-life Americans with whom he says he personally agrees — has reversed his position, an indication of the party’s dramatic shift on the issue.
“Biden will repeal the Hyde Amendment and use executive action to on his first day in office withdraw the Mexico City ‘global gag rule’ and Donald Trump’s Title X restrictions,” Biden’s campaign told the Times in a statement. But despite his willingness to jettison his lifelong stance and drift along with party dogma, Biden didn’t answer two additional questions in the survey: whether he would sign a budget that included Hyde and whether he would require private insurers to cover abortion.
Several candidates, including Buttigieg, Warren, Williamson, Yang, Bennet, Booker, and Sanders said they would compel private insurers to cover abortion, a step further even than opposing Hyde.
Democrats running for president have made it abundantly clear up to this point that they plan to align their campaigns with their party’s most hard-core supporters of abortion rights. This survey suggests that they’re willing to do so even when it requires exposing their extremism to voters who disagree.