The Corner


Why Won’t Moderators Ask Democrats about Abortion?

Moderators Don Lemon, Dana Bash, and Jake Tapper of CNN during a break in the first night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Mich., July 30, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Democratic politicians are continuing their lurch to the left on abortion rights this election cycle. Not one 2020 presidential candidate has articulated a single restriction on abortion access that they would support. Several of the front-runners support federal legislation that would nullify any and all state laws protecting the unborn. Every senator running voted against a bill that would’ve done nothing more than require doctors to provide adequate medical care to infants born alive after attempted abortion procedures. And as I wrote on NRO yesterday, every primary candidate with a health-care proposal would require unlimited abortion coverage — and Medicare for All would require taxpayers to foot the bill.

But the average observer likely has no idea that Democratic politicians take these stances. That’s thanks in large part to journalists like last night’s debate moderators, who didn’t pose a single question about the issue to the ten candidates on stage. A repeat performance is almost guaranteed in the second debate this evening.

And it’s not just during debates. Mainstream reporters rarely, if ever, ask Democrats to detail their views on abortion — and when they do, the questions are usually couched in the euphemisms preferred by those who favor expansive abortion rights. Last month, the New York Times sat down with 21 Democratic primary candidates and asked each of them the same 18 questions, about gun control, and health care, and foreign policy. The Times even managed to inquire about candidates’ favorite comfort foods, how much sleep they get, and what they do to relax. But there apparently wasn’t room for a single question about abortion policy.

Journalists seem to believe that viewers and readers don’t care enough about the issue to merit asking candidates to discuss it. A bit of research reveals that that’s simply not the case. An Economist/YouGov poll from earlier this month, for instance, found that a plurality of Americans said abortion was a “very important” issue to them, and nearly 80 percent said it was either “very important” or “somewhat important.” There’s a decent case to be made — in fact, I’ve made it — that Donald Trump’s embrace of the pro-life position, and willingness to vocally defend it, was a crucial part of how he manufactured a winning coalition in 2016.

And it’s not just a matter of pro-life Americans wanting Democrats to be held to account for their extremism on this issue. Abortion-rights advocacy groups have been arguing for years that moderators ought to press political candidates to speak about abortion during debates, so much so that progressive commentators take to Twitter every debate night with the hashtag #AskAboutAbortion.

Perhaps some reporters themselves believe that women ought to have unlimited access to abortion, so they’d prefer not to push Democratic politicians to explain their unpopular views in great detail.

Or perhaps they realize that the Democratic party’s consensus on abortion has solidified around unlimited access. Even candidates positioning themselves as moderates have been bullied by left-wing activists into adopting the view that abortion ought to be legal and funded by the taxpayer at any stage of pregnancy and for any reason. If CNN’s moderators were to have asked a basic question about “defending reproductive rights,” surely every politician on stage would’ve parroted the same euphemistic talking points back at them — not exactly thrilling television like a squabble between Sanders and Warren.

But if anyone in the media is serious about pushing candidates to clarify their policy positions, here are a few questions they might ask about abortion to elicit interesting responses:

  • Is there any restriction on a woman’s right to abortion that you would support?
  • When does a fetus attain rights, and why?
  • Do you agree with the assertion in Roe v. Wade that states have a right to regulate abortion after a fetus becomes viable?
  • Why should taxpayers with conscience objections to abortion be required to fund it?
  • Do you support laws that require abortion clinics to maintain health and safety standards to protect women seeking abortions?

But judging from coverage of the race thus far, hoping for any question at all about abortion is just a pipe dream.

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