clock menu more-arrow no yes

None of the 5 Democratic debates have asked about abortion. Advocates want to change that.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The early Republican debates featured lengthy, and often misleading, diatribes against Planned Parenthood and abortion rights. But in the five Democratic debates so far, the candidates haven't been asked about abortion once. Pro-choice advocates are calling on the first all-female debate moderator team this cycle to change that.

On Monday afternoon, NARAL Pro-Choice America sent a letter to journalists Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, who will moderate Thursday's Democratic debate on PBS. The letter urges them to ask Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders about the state of reproductive health care in America — and specifically about attacks on abortion.

"We find the lack of questions on this subject to be shameful and a real disservice to voters," writes NARAL political director Joel Foster. "Clinic closures, the vilification of both doctors who provide services and women who choose abortion, combined with outright abortion bans, made the last year a harrowing one — even before the deadly attack in Colorado Springs that made clear the price we pay when extreme anti-abortion rhetoric fuels extremist violence."

Since the 2010 election, Foster writes, governors and state legislators have enacted "dangerous restrictions on women’s health care at near record numbers." Meanwhile, "Republicans in Congress and across the states are spending tens-of-millions of taxpayer dollars investigating Planned Parenthood, despite zero evidence of any wrong-doing, and the Supreme Court is about to hear the most important abortion case in decades."

Reproductive rights advocates have been complaining for months about the lack of abortion discussion during the Democratic debates — especially after the attack on a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood that Foster mentioned, which killed three people. There's even an #AskAboutAbortion hashtag.

Why haven't there been any questions about abortion?

Most likely, it's because moderators don't think it will lead to any interesting answers from the candidates. Most Democrats are pro-choice, and both Sanders and Clinton are strong supporters of reproductive rights.

Many commentators also have the misguided impression that the American people's views on abortion are rigid, polarized, and unchanging, so it's not really worth talking about in a political campaign.

Frankly, a lot of Democrats act that way too. When Republicans attack Planned Parenthood funding, Democrats will oppose the cuts and talk about how government shouldn't get between a woman and her doctor. But the conversation rarely gets much deeper or more interesting than that.

It should, though. There are plenty of timely, debate-worthy topics when it comes to abortion access in America that the candidates may or may not agree on.

For instance:

  • Should violence and vandalism against abortion providers be classified as domestic terrorism?
  • How would the candidates address the steady rollback of reproductive rights at the state level over the past five years — especially if the Supreme Court upholds the Texas restrictions that are closing abortion clinics?
  • Do the candidates think that calling for abortion to be "safe, legal, and rare" does a disservice to the one in three women who will end up having an abortion in their lifetimes, and who are increasingly speaking out about their stories to fight stigma?
  • Do the candidates think voters will agree with their recent calls to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal tax dollars from covering abortion costs?

Et cetera. There's actually a lot more to the issue of reproductive rights than whether or not a candidate supports funding for Planned Parenthood.