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Roundups Politics

At Iowa Debate, Reproductive Rights Nowhere to Be Found: Campaign Week in Review

Dennis Carter

Abortion access didn't make the cut during Tuesday's debate in Iowa among presidential candidates who have pledged to take radical steps to fight back against Republican attacks on reproductive health care.

Join Rewire.News for a weekly look at how reproductive health, rights, and justice issues are popping up on the 2020 campaign trail.

Advocates Slam ‘Indefensible’ Omission of Abortion Rights at Iowa Debate

The systematic rollback of reproductive rights on the state and federal level wasn’t mentioned during Tuesday’s Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, even as 8 in 10 likely Iowa caucusgoers call abortion rights “a must-have regardless of how they plan to participate,” according to CNN polling.

The 2020 presidential election comes a decade after Republicans swept to power in state legislatures, swiftly passing a raft of laws undercutting access to abortion care. Last year, Republican-held legislatures across the South and Midwest passed near-total abortion bans designed to challenge the precedent set in Roe v. Wade. Legislators in 32 states enacted 394 anti-choice laws from 2011 to 2017, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

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The Trump administration, meanwhile, has stocked the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with anti-choice activists who have dedicated their careers to ending legal abortion.

Still, abortion access didn’t make the cut during Tuesday’s debate among candidates who have pledged to take radical steps to fight back against Republican attacks on reproductive health care.

Jenny Lawson, executive director of Planned Parenthood Votes, said it was “indefensible” that abortion rights didn’t come up once during two hours of debate in a state that has seen Republicans pass a near-total ban on abortion.

“Iowans know better than anyone what it looks like for politicians to push their extreme agenda on people and their doctors,” she said in a statement, adding that Iowa lawmakers “have failed” their constituents. “At this critical juncture, the stakes for reproductive rights could not be higher. … We—and voters all across the country—demand better.”

The Democratic presidential debate in December only passingly addressed reproductive health care, drawing criticism from advocates. Candidates had a lengthy exchange about abortion access during the debate in June, answering questions with anti-choice framing and defending their reproductive health platforms.

“It’s not just about abortion—our lives, our bodies, our families, and our communities are literally on the line.”

Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund

Destiny Lopez, co-director of the All* Above All Action Fund, a reproductive rights organization, said as the Democratic presidential field narrows, “it’s critical that voters know where candidates stand on issues of reproductive justice, which goes far beyond a promise to protect Roe v. Wade.”

“The stakes of this presidential election could not be higher for women of color,” Lopez told Rewire.News. “It’s not just about abortion—our lives, our bodies, our families, and our communities are literally on the line. It’s deeply disappointing that even as we face this stark reality, debate moderators failed to bring up any issues of reproductive health, rights, or justice at all.”

“Now more than ever, we need to hear from candidates on how they plan to overturn the Hyde Amendment and ensure fair wages, decent working conditions, and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, so that families can be healthy and live with dignity,” Lopez continued.

Networks that host presidential debates and moderators who ask the questions should treat abortion access as a top-line issue, said Mallory Schwarz, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, which last year almost became the first state post-Roe without a standalone abortion provider

“Amidst ongoing attacks on access to abortion from Republican lawmakers across Missouri, Georgia, and Ohio, Democratic presidential candidates must use every opportunity to speak directly and boldly on their plans to protect the right to choose,” Schwarz said in a statement to Rewire.News.

“The reality is: Abortion is not a niche issue, but a top priority for voters in 2020. … Voters deserve to hear each candidate’s response on how they will defend this fundamental freedom, including the steps they’ll take to stop coordinated attacks on clinics that provide abortion, repeal the Hyde Amendment, and expand abortion access, particularly for those individuals disproportionately impacted by state restrictions, including communities of color.”

What Else We’re Reading 

The New York Times reported on the potential impact of impeachment hearings in the U.S. Senate that will force three Democratic candidates—Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)—off the campaign trail just weeks ahead of the February 3 Iowa caucuses. Recent FiveThirtyEight polling shows Sanders in second place in Iowa, Warren in fourth, and Klobuchar a distant fifth place.

Forty-two percent of Black voters between the ages of 18 and 34 are backing Sanders in the 2020 primary election, according to the Washington Post, making him the most popular candidate in that demographic. Former Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, leads among Black voters between 35 and 49 years old and maintains a commanding lead among older Black voters.

Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, the eighth richest person on Earth, will ask Silicon Valley billionaires for their support in the 2020 election, Recode reported. Bloomberg has drawn support from tech billionaire and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.

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