The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nancy Pelosi says abortion is ‘fading’ as an issue for Democrats. The opposite is true for conservatives.

House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-Calif.) said abortion is not as large an issue for Democratic candidates running for office as it was in the past. (Video: Jayne Orenstein/The Washington Post, Photo: Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post/The Washington Post)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) thinks Democratic voters just don't care about abortion anymore, at least not to the degree they used to.

“It’s kind of fading as an issue,” she told Washington Post reporters on Tuesday. “It really is.”

But conservative lawmakers certainly still care a lot. In fact, antiabortion advocates are on a roll right now, successfully making it harder for women to get abortions in dozens of states.

Which makes sense. When you combine the right's unwavering focus on limiting abortion with the fact that Republicans control a majority of state legislatures and governor's mansions — as well as Congress and the White House AND with a favorable ideological tilt on the Supreme Court — you get a country whose abortion landscape is leaning in antiabortion advocates' favor.

There are now 17 states that ban abortion after 20 weeks, which is when antiabortion advocates argue a fetus can feel pain. As the 2017 state legislative session wraps up, five states have passed 13 major abortion restriction laws, and at least two more are sitting on governors' desks in Iowa and Montana.

Really, antiabortion advocates have actually been on a roll for six years and counting. Since Republicans swept control of a majority of state legislatures in 2010, states have enacted more than 350 abortion restrictions. In the 2016 state legislative session, some 14 states made it harder to get an abortion.

Elizabeth Nash, with the abortion rights research group Guttmacher Institute, said there's an arms race in conservative states to pass increasingly strict abortion laws in hopes of being the trigger for a tidal wave of abortion bans.

“One of these states is looking to be that state to enact the law that ends up at the Supreme Court and overturns Roe v. Wade,” she said. “That's what we're watching for.”

This is unfolding against the backdrop of a more antiabortion Washington, though less is happening than perhaps antiabortion advocates would have hoped. In April, President Trump signed a law that allows states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood and other health-care clinics that provide abortions. But he will sign a five-month spending bill that does include spending for Planned Parenthood.

And this has all happened as Democrats have been drifting away from fights over abortion, at least according to Pelosi.

Though, on that point, whether Democrats will vote for candidates based on their stance on abortion is up for debate.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez recently said a candidate's support for abortion rights is “nonnegotiable” after he and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) appeared on stage in April with an Omaha candidate for mayor who has sponsored bills to restrict abortion.

Another group that agrees with Perez that Democrats' commitment to abortion rights is nonnegotiable is holding its annual conference Wednesday. Advocacy group Emily's List will focus Wednesday on training, recruiting and helping Democratic women candidates message on a variety of topics in the era of Trump. But Emily's List only endorses and works with women who support abortion rights.

And speaking at the conference Wednesday: None other than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is considered a potential 2020 presidential candidate to challenge Trump.

So, do Democrats still value abortion rights? That's up for debate. (Also worth noting: Last year, Emily's List awarded Pelosi for her leadership "to the EMILY's List community.")

But what's not up for debate is the fact that abortion rights advocates are losing battles across the nation, and they have been for a few years now.

This post originally misstated the award EMILY's List gave Pelosi in 2016. She was awarded the We Are EMILY award.