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Protecting abortion rights has become a key talking point for Democratic presidential candidates as Republican-led state legislatures have passed laws in recent months to severely restrict the procedure, in an ultimate bid to challenge Roe v. Wade at the high court.
Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday denounced the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal dollars from being used for abortion. His abrupt reversal — as recently as Wednesday, Biden’s campaign had reaffirmed his long-standing support for the rule — thrust the Democratic frontrunner into the middle of the abortion debate. The position drew intense criticism this week from members of his own party and put him at odds with the national Democratic Party platform.
Biden pointed to intensified efforts by Republican lawmakers to chip away at or overturn Roe this year as reason for his change of heart, but made clear he makes “no apologies for the last position.”
A number of other 2020 candidates have said they would repeal the Hyde Amendment, although most of the contenders who serve in Congress have also voted for it when it was attached to larger funding bills.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, attended a rally in front of the Supreme Court last month in protest of newly passed state laws that ban abortions. Several of the measures prohibit the procedure as soon as cardiac activity is detected. Alabama’s law, the most extreme recent legislation, bans abortion in nearly all cases at any point during a pregnancy.
A new PBS NewsHour-NPR-Marist poll found the majority of Americans do not agree with severe restrictions on abortion services. Most Americans also want to uphold Roe.
READ MORE: New abortion laws are too extreme for most Americans, poll shows
All the major Democratic presidential candidates support abortion rights, but there are differences in how they are weighing in on the growing national conversation around abortion.
Here is where they stand on the issue:
Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has expressed opposition to recent state-level efforts to restrict abortion, and called the laws passed in Alabama, Georgia and Missouri “a blatant attack on women and their right to access reproductive health care.” Bennet recently told CNN that if elected president, he would appoint federal judges who would “uphold the precedent of Roe v. Wade.” In response to the debate over the Hyde Amendment, he tweeted that the law was “federally sanctioned discrimination” and said it should be overturned immediately.
Bennet won his 2010 Senate race partly by challenging his Republican opponent’s stance on abortion.
The former vice president’s about-face on the Hyde amendment is not the first time he has revised his position on abortion. A devout Roman Catholic who served for more than three decades in the Senate, Biden has long been personally opposed to abortion, and his record in Congress reflected his misgivings about the procedure.
As a first-term Senator from Delaware in 1974, the year after Roe v. Wade was decided, Biden said women should not have the “sole right to say what should happen to her body.” Decades later as vice president, he said the opposite, arguing in the 2012 vice presidential debate that lawmakers do not have “a right to tell other people that – women – they can’t control their body.” Similarly, in 1981, then-Sen.Biden voted for a constitutional amendment allowing states to overturn Roe v. Wade. The following year, he reversed his position and voted against the measure when it was held to a second vote.
Hours before Biden reversed his stance on the Hyde amendment at the DNC African American Leadership Summit in Atlanta, Booker told the same group that the Hyde amendment was an “assault on African American women.” He has promised to repeal the amendment in his first budget as president.
Booker has also called recent laws to restrict abortion access passed in Alabama, Missouri and other states a “coordinated attack aimed at controlling, dehumanizing, and criminalizing women.” The New Jersey senator wrote in an open letter to men published by GQ that women “should not have to face this fight alone” and urged men “to listen, to speak out, and to take action.” In recent weeks, Booker has outlined steps he would take as president to protect abortion access, including establishing a White House Office on Reproductive Rights and working with Congress to pass legislation to protect abortion access provided by Roe v. Wade.
As Montana governor, Bullock has vetoed a number of bills aimed at restricting abortion, including one that would have prohibited abortions after 20 weeks of gestation and another that would have required a woman to see an ultrasound or listen to a heartbeat before undergoing an abortion. Last month, Bullock said the Hyde Amendment should be repealed.
In an interview with CNN, Bullock said he believes “life begins at viability, but either way it’s not up to people like me to be making these decisions.” Bullock said women should be the ones making decisions about their own bodies.
Buttigieg has promised to only appoint pro-Roe judges if elected president. He also said reproductive care includes increasing access to birth control and “common sense” sex education. In May, he attended a rally against recent conservative abortions laws in Washington, D.C., where he said “the extreme agenda pushed by the hard right is out of step with the American people.”
Buttigieg supports repealing the Hyde Amendment “so that those in need can access care equitably.”
Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro recently tweeted that he would like to repeal the Hyde Amendment. At the She the People candidate forum in April in Houston, Castro said abortion is “an issue of reproductive freedom and justice, and so I don’t think whether a woman has the resources to cover it [should] determine whether she is able to get that health care.” In addition, Castro has pledged to appoint a cabinet which is “entirely pro-choice”.
Before Biden reversed his support of the Hyde Amendment, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio was among who criticized the former vice president for his support of the measure.
De Blasio has also criticized restrictive abortion laws across the country and expressed support for a recently-passed New York State’s law that allowed abortion after 24 weeks if there was no viability of the fetus or to protect the patient’s life and health. It also made abortion a public health issue rather than criminal issue under state law.
Former Maryland Rep. John Delaney regularly voted against measures that would restrict abortion and funding to Planned Parenthood. In a CNN town hall, Delaney said “as a matter of public policy” he does not struggle to reconcile his pro-choice views with his Catholic beliefs.
Weighing in on the Hyde Amendment this week, Delaney said: “I believe women should have access to legal abortion care, and the Hyde Amendment kind of gets in the way of that for a lot of women.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was anti-abortion when she entered politics, voting with social conservatives in the Hawaii state legislature. She said deployment in Iraq changed her views and she now favors abortion rights. She has consistently voted in favor of abortion access since entering Congress.
She told the left-leaning website ThinkProgress that she supports using federal dollars to fund abortions, but she is not a co-sponsor of a House bill introduced this year which would repeal the Hyde Act. She similarly did not co-sponsor the 2017 “Women’s Health Protection Act”, which would overrule any state laws that make it harder to obtain elective abortions or which penalize abortion providers.
Last year, Gillibrand was one of the loudest opponents of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, arguing that he would help overturn Roe v. Wade if confirmed to the court.
Gillibrand is in favor of protecting abortion rights, including reducing limits on, and expanding access to, abortion. She has voted against a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. She recently took trips to states like Georgia and Alabama to oppose passage of strict abortion laws and pledged to only nominate judges who would uphold Roe v. Wade. Gillibrand told the PBS NewsHour in May that the Democratic Party should have a similar litmus test for the candidates it backs.
“Voters can have any perspective they want, of course. And everyone also has their own personal views on issues of reproductive care. But I think, as a party, we need to value women. We need to stand up for women,” she said.
California Sen. Kamala Harris called recent anti-abortion laws, “dangerous attacks” on women’s rights. Harris said she would work to codify the protections of Roe v. Wade into law, but she also wants to block state restrictions from going into effect. Harris’ plan is modeled after the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and would require states that pass anti-abortion restrictions to get preclearance from the Department of Justice.
During her 2016 Senate race, anti-abortion groups called on Harris to end her campaign and resign as California’s attorney general because of her investigation into a man who released undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees.
Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has described recent efforts by GOP-controlled legislatures to pass restrictive abortion laws as “horrific.” In response, Hickenlooper unveiled a plan to expand his Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which provides long-acting reversible contraception, including Intrauterine Devices, to all women above the age of 15 at no cost. The Colorado program, which Hickenlooper implemented in 2009, helped reduce teen pregnancies by 50 percent and reduced the rate of abortions among teens by nearly 50 percent, according to state health officials.
Hickenlooper’s new plan would increase Title X funding by $700 million to fund the contraceptives, which he says would ensure access to low-income individuals. Hickenlooper also supports efforts to reinforce Roe v. Wade with a federal law.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has opposed the Hyde Amendment, and has favored federal funding of abortion as part of Medicaid and other health programs since at least 1993, when he voted against the Hyde Amendment in Congress. He emphasized his thinking in a tweet this week.
As governor, Inslee strongly supported and signed the Reproductive Parity Act, which requires that health insurers include coverage for elective abortions in all of their plans. In New Hampshire in May, he said he would push for a law to make abortion access a civil right. “In every single state, a woman should have a right of freedom and liberty, regardless of what their zip code is,” Inslee said. “And that’s why, when I’m president, I’m going to lead an effort to embrace a civil right, just like the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar believes abortion is a decision between a woman and her doctor. In 2006, Klobuchar said that “we need to start talking about common ground, and about reducing the number of abortions — making them safe and making them rare.” Klobuchar co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act. The legislation prohibits states from setting restrictions on abortion. She also supports access to government-funded contraception and family planning services to decrease the need for abortions.
Campaign advisers for Messam, the mayor of Miramar, Florida, said the candidate is in favor of allowing federal dollars to be used to provide abortions. On Messam’s campaign website, women’s health is the issue area with the shortest description. It includes a single sentence: “I trust women to make their own decisions when it comes to their health. Period.”
Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton has co-sponsored a bill in Congress to “ensure affordable abortion coverage and care for every woman.” At a May rally in Washington, D.C., organized by progressive organizations like Planned Parenthood and MoveOn, Moulton said: “It’s not my job to come to Washington and take away the rights of my wife.” He recently congratulated Biden on Twitter for reversing his longstanding support for the Hyde Amendment. “It takes courage to admit when you’re wrong.” (He concluded his tweet by adding: “Now do the Iraq War.”)
Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke believes there is a “nationwide assault” on reproductive rights led by states passing “radical and dangerous” anti-abortion bills. O’Rourke has said decisions about abortions “are best left to a woman and her doctor.” During a campaign event in March, O’Rourke was asked if he supported access to abortions in the third trimester and responded “absolutely.” During his three terms in Congress, O’Rourke co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act and voted against a bill that would have banned abortion after 20 weeks. As president, O’Rourke said he would appoint judges who uphold Roe v. Wade.
Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan changed his stance on abortion in 2015, when he announced in an op-ed that he was switching his position from being against abortion to supporting abortion rights. Since then, he has been an outspoken critic of abortion bans and attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. He recently said in a tweet that the Hyde Amendment is “wrong and should be repealed.” He continued, “Access to abortion care shouldn’t be limited by your zip code, income, or health care provider. It is a RIGHT.”
At a recent rally in Alabama, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont said abortion is “not just a woman’s issue” and called on men to stand with women. His Medicare-for-all proposal would provide coverage for “comprehensive reproductive, maternity, and newborn care,” including abortions. To make that possible, Sanders said this week he would advocate for repealing the Hyde Amendment.
At the same time, Sanders has come under some scrutiny in recent weeks for how he responded to questions about abortions up until the “moment of birth” and the risk of people using abortion to select the gender of their child. Neither of those hypothetical scenarios are based in facts and critics said Sanders’ responses gave the ideas undue legitimacy.
California Rep. Eric Swalwell has consistently voted against measures to restrict abortion rights, including a 2018 “personhood” bill that would have granted separate legal rights to a pregnancy and the 2017 “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would have banned abortion at 20 weeks. Swalwell was a co-sponsor of the 2017 “Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance” bill, which sought to repeal the Hyde Amendment.
During a recent CNN town hall, Swalwell said the network should consider leaving its Atlanta headquarters in response to a Georgia law that was recently passed banning abortion as early as six weeks. “CNN may have to move — there’s a lot of young women who work for CNN who could be affected,” he said.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has said she would like to expand access to abortion, including taxpayer funding for some abortions , and add new federal laws to protect the right to obtain one.
She laid out her policy in a 1,400-word Medium post in May. She would also require that all health coverage includes abortion services, contraception and other reproductive care.
Author and activist Marianne Williamson has said she is “100 percent pro-choice.” Williamson told the NewsHour this week that the Hyde Amendment needs to be repealed.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang supports a woman’s right to choose. “I personally don’t think male legislators should be weighing in on women’s reproductive rights and freedoms,” he tweeted last month as Alabama passed its ban on nearly all abortions. Yang also believes the Hyde Amendment should be repealed, his campaign manager, Zach Graumann, told the NewsHour on Friday. Among the plethora of policy proposals on his campaign website, Yang argues that “the two most effective ways” to decrease the number of abortions are increasing access to birth control and providing support to those “who are financially struggling and become pregnant” through his plan for universal basic income. As president, Yang has said he would also nominate judges who support a woman’s right to choose.
The PBS NewsHour’s Dan Cooney, Tess Conciatori, Alexandra D’Elia, Lisa Desjardins, Gretchen Frazee, Kate Grumke, Matt Loffman, Courtney Vinopal, Rachel Wellford and Jessica Yarvin contributed to this report.
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