After MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow asked how the candidates would respond as president to the Republican Party’s attacks on reproductive rights, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) called for Roe v. Wade to be codified into law. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) tied abortion bans to voter suppression, pointing out that Georgia’s law would not have been signed had Stacy Abrams won the state’s controversy-filled election. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) addressed the need for men to be pro-choice allies. And Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) underscored that, in addition to harming women’s health, abortion restrictions also perpetuate economic inequality. “I believe that abortion rights are human rights. I believe that they are also economic rights,” Warren said, adding, “When someone makes abortion illegal in America, rich women will still get abortions. It’s just going to fall hard on poor women.”
The Trump era has seen an array of reproductive policy horrors, including the Office of Refugee Resettlement’s tracking of teen girls’ pregnancies and periods to prevent them from seeking abortions. But the president’s devastating impact on reproductive freedom is sometimes underrated, perhaps because it’s an issue on which he is marching in lockstep with longtime Republican orthodoxy.
After all, Trump won the support of skeptical evangelical Christians and Republicans in 2016 with his pledge to appoint judges who are hostile to abortion rights, and he has relentlessly followed through on that promise. By installing Justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, both of whom seem committed to gutting Roe and criminalizing abortion, Trump has put the long-standing precedent’s future in doubt. He has also stacked the lower courts with anti-choice judges who, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) maneuvering, have been confirmed at an alarming pace.
Encouraged by the presence of allies in the White House and on the bench, conservatives have accelerated their efforts to impose severe abortion restrictions at the state level. Georgia, Alabama, Ohio, Mississippi and Louisiana are among the states that have passed near-total bans on abortion this year alone. (Notably, Louisiana’s law was signed by its conservative Democratic governor.) Texas legislators went so far as to propose a bill that would have allowed capital punishment for women who receive abortions. Altogether, the Guttmacher Institute reports that 59 state-level abortion restrictions have been enacted in 2019.
These policies appeal to anti-choice zealots, but they are enormously unpopular with the public as a whole. As Klobuchar noted in the debate, more than 70 percent of Americans support Roe, while just 13 percent believe that it should be overturned. Yet conservatives continue to press on, confident that Trump’s judges will rule in their favor even if the court of public opinion does not.
There are, however, reasons for progressives to be hopeful. The assault on reproductive freedom has reinvigorated the pro-choice movement and mobilized grass-roots activists across the country. Since the beginning of the year, several states where progressives hold power have enacted laws to protect abortion access. The issue likely also played a key role in Democrats’ recent victories in Virginia and Kentucky, where pro-choice groups made significant investments to defeat anti-choice incumbents.
Meanwhile, the Democratic primary has generated some bold ideas to strengthen and expand reproductive rights nationally. Booker has pledged to establish an Office of Reproductive Freedom to promote access to reproductive health care services, including abortion and contraception. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has proposed a pre-clearance process — similar to the one used in the past under the Voting Rights Act — that would require states to receive approval from the Justice Department before enacting new restrictions on abortion. And, of course, the top candidates universally support repealing the Hyde Amendment, the prohibition on federal funding for abortion that disproportionately harms the working poor.
These are important ideas that demand a hearing in the 2020 debate. As NARAL Pro-Choice President Ilyse Hogue writes in a forthcoming issue of the Nation, “This is an inflection point” in the battle for reproductive freedom that calls for leaders who recognize reproductive rights as “a fundamental guarantee without which women will never be free.”