People For the American Way

Democratic Presidential Debates Underscore the Role of Reproductive Rights in the 2020 Election

News and Analysis
Democratic Presidential Debates Underscore the Role of Reproductive Rights in the 2020 Election

After a wave of restrictive abortion bans were passed in the South and Midwest, several Democratic presidential candidates put their commitment to reproductive rights front and center in their campaign platforms. While Roe v. Wade makes clear that bans like these are unconstitutional, these latest anti-choice assaults are meant to eventually overturn that precedent, lending new urgency to an already critical issue.

During the first Democratic debates on June 26 and June 27, the candidates shared how they would mitigate these attacks on reproductive rights.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., stated that she plans to use the Department of Justice to combat anti-abortion extremism by blocking laws that go against Roe v. Wade. Harris also believes the Hyde Amendment, which does not allow federal funding for abortion, should be repealed. Finally, she wants to revitalize the evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was one of the first candidates to outline a plan for addressing reproductive rights after the recent abortion bans. Sen. Warren stated that she is firm that Congress needs to defend access to reproductive care and should protect patients from right-wing attempts to take their constitutional rights away. She believes the Hyde Amendment should be repealed and that Roe v. Wade needs to be firmly enforced. In terms of reproductive services as a part of the health care system, she wants Congress to pass the EACH Woman Act, which would prevent private insurance companies from restricting access to abortion.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., reiterated his plans for a single-payer health care system, and emphasized that it would protect choice through a provision that promises free “comprehensive reproductive, maternity, and newborn care.”  He also would fully fund Planned Parenthood as well as other organizations that provide contraception and abortion care. Sen. Sanders also promised to appoint judges who share his stance on reproductive rights.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., reaffirmed that reproductive rights are at the core of her campaign, and stated she will “guarantee your reproductive rights no matter what.” The actions she would take include repealing the Hyde Amendment and the domestic and global gag rule, which prevents doctors from telling women how and where they can get an abortion. Sen. Gillibrand stressed that “we have to stop playing defense and start playing offense” to reclaim and expand reproductive rights, especially in light of the attacks on choice and Roe at the state level, and pledged to only nominate judges that support Roe v. Wade.

Former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, D-Texas, specifically called out the intersections between reproductive freedom and the LGBTQ+ community, and emphasized that LGBTQ+ people who can become pregnant should also be involved in the discussions regarding reproductive rights. Castro emphasized that transgender people, in particular, often face discrimination when getting medical care. He also believes reproductive rights need to be looked at through an intersectional lens to take all systematically-oppressed communities into consideration.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg, D-Ind., said that the Democratic presidential nominee needs to have a strong stance on women’s rights and gender equity issues. He believes women should have access to affordable reproductive health care, and is committed to nominating judges who understand the importance of reproductive freedom. Finally, he also spoke out against the Hyde Amendment and is in favor of more funding for sex education and birth control.

Governor Jay Inslee pointed to his record in the state of Washington on ensuring reproductive rights. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., took issue with his claim that he was the only candidate who had made real strides in the reproductive rights movement, pointing out that three female candidates on stage have fought for these rights. Klobuchar also said she wants to repeal the domestic and global gag rules and will only support judges in favor of this.

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., discussed how limited access to abortion disproportionately affects low-income women. As a means to ameliorate this, he would create the White House Office of Reproductive Freedom, which would focus on making it easier to receive reproductive health care. Booker would also guarantee employer-based contraceptive care coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Additionally, Sen. Booker is a proponent of increasing the budget for Title X and reversing Trump’s domestic and global gag rule.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo., stated that, he would bring the long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) plan he implemented in Colorado, which provides affordable access to health care and contraception, to the national level. He also shared his strong belief that women should have access to all contraception options and that the budget for Title X needs to be increased.


Abortion, abortion rights, Bernie Sanders, Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Election 2020, Elizabeth Warren, Jay Inslee, Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, Promoting Gender Equity, reproductive health care, reproductive rights