Destiny Lopez is co-director of All* Above All Action Fund.
Like a steady drip from a broken faucet, a lot of blame has been thrown around since Hillary Clinton’s shocking loss in November. Predictably, and without any evidence, some have begun drawing connections between Clinton’s loss and her support of abortion rights, specifically her call to end the Hyde Amendment, the law first passed in 1976 that effectively denies low-income women insurance coverage for abortion. A common thread has emerged: Women’s issues and racial justice — both of which intersect in support of abortion rights — are being positioned as a key vulnerability of today’s Democratic party, rather than part of its core.
Add to this argument Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I) recent statements during the Democratic National Committee “unity tour” throwing abortion rights under the bus. The Vermont senator argued that Democrats need to back antiabortion candidates “if we’re going to become a 50-state party.” This isn’t really a surprise: In 2015, Sanders bluntly set economic issues against reproductive health: “Once you get off of the social issues — abortion, gay rights, guns — and into the economic issues, there is a lot more agreement than the pundits understand.”
Smack in the middle of this flirtation with abandoning support for abortion rights, where women’s health, racial justice and family economics intersect, sits the Hyde Amendment. Lifting the Hyde Amendment, and more broadly supporting legal, affordable abortion, isn’t an isolated idea. For many of us, it is deeply connected to our support for women’s health and rights, inseparable from economic and racial justice, and intrinsic to freedom from political interference with our most personal decisions.
Public support for ending Hyde has been echoed by Clinton, by members of Congress and by Sanders himself as a presidential candidate. As a result, we have a fair amount of data on what happens when politicians voice their support for abortion coverage. One thing is clear: The issue doesn’t lose elections. In 2015, 129 House Democrats co-sponsored the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act, which would reverse the Hyde Amendment. In 2016, not a single one lost their seat to someone who did not support the bill.
The reality is that the public is more supportive of abortion rights than ever. In late 2016, polling from Pew Research Center found the highest levels of support for legal abortion since 1995, largely driven by a rise in support among Democratic women. Recent data show a majority of Americans oppose blanket bans on abortion coverage, and polling conducted last year by Hart Research Associates for All* Above Action Fund shows that 3 in 4 battleground voters agree with the statement, “However we feel about abortion, politicians should not be allowed to deny a woman’s health coverage for it just because she’s poor.” There is broad consensus on this point across party lines. The poll also found that a majority of voters in battleground states would support a bill requiring Medicaid to cover abortion. Opposition to the Hyde Amendment is especially strong among millennials, African Americans and Latinos, rebutting some ridiculous claims to the contrary.
Here’s what we do know: Abortion is important to voters, and is often used as a metric to judge a candidate’s other values. The most reliably Democratic voters — namely black and Asian American Pacific Islander women, Latinas, unmarried women and educated urbanites — want abortion to be legal and accessible.
Democrats are scrambling: The loss of the presidency was unexpected and painful. They feel like the ship is sinking around them, so they’re looking around, desperately, trying to jettison anything not needed to stay afloat. But support for abortion rights and a commitment to end the Hyde Amendment are not disposable issues or dead weight — they’re part of the engine that keeps the party moving forward and a piece of the moral fabric that gives the party integrity and relevance to people’s lives. Throwing abortion access and coverage overboard won’t keep the ship from sinking, but it may well leave it dead in the water.
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