The first of two Democratic presidential debates this week was held Wednesday night in Miami, and from the outset it was clear the race was on to see who could one-up the other in the “woke candidate” sweepstakes.
10 candidates took the stage: Sen. Cory Booker (NJ), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN), former Rep. John Delaney (MD), Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI), former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tim Ryan (OH), NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Gov. Jay Inslee (WA).

They were asked about a variety of issues, including illegal immigration, health care, and a 70% tax rate on billionaires. While the candidates seemed willing to give specifics on these issues, when it came to abortion rights the staunchly pro-choice group gave curiously vague answers beyond standard talking points:

The candidates also conveniently avoided the most controversial and contested aspects of abortion policy, including limits on the procedure at any point in a pregnancy. Whether this dodge was intentional or the natural outcome of a quick-paced debate, it stood in contrast to one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, when Hillary Clinton endorsed abortion through the end of the third trimester of a pregnancy. So far this cycle, Democrats have been running to embrace the abortion-rights positions that poll well with voters, and steering clear of tougher questions. In reality, however, these nitpicky questions about abortion limits matter: These are the policy areas where most abortion fights actually happen at the federal level.

The abortion conversation began with former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who approached the subject unprompted by the moderators. In answering a question about his health-care plan, O’Rourke said that “health care also has to mean that every woman can make her own decisions about her own body, and has access to the care that makes that possible.” Washington Governor Jay Inslee later picked up that theme, eager to make his pro-abortion-rights record clear. “I am the only candidate here who has passed a law protecting a woman’s right of reproductive rights in health insurance,” he said, referring to legislation he signed in 2018. “I respect everyone’s goals and plans here, but we have one candidate who advanced the ball. We have to have access for everyone.”

This claim did not sit well with Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota. “I want to say there are three women up here who fought pretty hard for a woman’s right to choose,” she said. The comment elicited loud applause, and was an inadvertent reminder of how male the first-night debate stage was: Klobuchar, along with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, stood out in the long line of male presidential candidates in their dark suits. But Klobuchar’s line was also a throwaway: Beyond implying her abortion-rights bona fides, she didn’t offer any details about her position.

Julián Castro’s answer in particular, had a lot of people shaking their heads. He told the audience he believed in abortion rights for transgender women:

Transgender women are men who identify as women. They cannot get pregnant.

When asked in a follow-up question on Thursday, Castro refused to name any restrictions he’d put on abortion, saying he’d leave it up to the woman (which, if you read between the lines, says he doesn’t not support any restrictions):

The most evasive answer of the night came from Sen. Warren, who completely dodged a question from moderator Lester Holt on what restrictions she’d support on abortion:

HOLT: Senator Warren, would you put limits on — any limits on abortion?

WARREN: I would make certain that every woman has access to the full range of reproductive health care services, and that includes birth control, it includes abortion, it includes everything for a woman.

And I want to add on that. It’s not enough for us to expect the courts to protect us. Forty-seven years ago, Roe v. Wade was decided, and we’ve all looked to the courts all that time, as state after state has undermined Roe, has put in exceptions, has come right up to the edge of taking away protections…

HOLT:Your time is up, Senator.

WARREN: We now have an America where most people support Roe v. Wade. We need to make that a federal law.

Watch Warren respond to Holt’s question below:

As Prof. Jacobson noted last night in his debate recap, Warren was clearly the favorite of the moderators. But on this question, she bombed. I wrote a couple of days ago about how Warren has gone the absolutist route on abortion and does not support any restrictions. Why wasn’t she willing to say that directly during the debate last night?

Are she and the other candidates, who normally won’t hesitate to talk at length and in detail about their commitment to a “woman’s right to choose”, afraid to voice their extremist positions on abortion in front of a diverse national audience?

Tonight’s debate may be more revealing on the abortion front, as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) will take the stage with the other 9 candidates who made the cut. Gillibrand has become the frontrunner in the party on the issue of unrestricted, unlimited abortion access.

She’s gone even further than most of the other candidates, essentially suggesting that pro-life Democrats be purged from the party. She’s said that “action” should be taken in the event SCOTUS Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch overturn Roe v. Wade.

She has also stated that nominating a pro-life judge to serve on a higher court is no different than nominating racist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic judges. Gillibrand has also asserted that Christians who were true to their faith would support abortion on demand.

Seeing as she’ll be on the stage tonight with Joe Biden, who was dragged to the left recently on the issue of repealing the Hyde Amendment after a feminist outcry, I’m really hoping for an illuminating back and forth from the two on their positions and where they fall on the restrictions scale.

That is assuming the left-leaning moderators push them on the issue. I won’t hold my breath.

— Stacey Matthews has also written under the pseudonym “Sister Toldjah” and can be reached via Twitter. —

 
 
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