The 2020 presidential campaign ramps up in February, with three Democratic primary debates scheduled in the early voting states of New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Moderators of these three debates should improve on past performances and ask the candidates practical and concrete questions about abortion and how they would protect or improve access.
- ABC News and WMUR-TV, in partnership with Apple News, will host a February 7 debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, before the state’s February 11 primary.
- MSNBC and The Nevada Independent will host a February 19 debate in Las Vegas, Nevada, before the state’s February 22 caucuses.
- CBS News and the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, in partnership with Twitter, will host a February 25 debate in Charleston, South Carolina, before the state’s February 29 primary.
Throughout the 2020 Democratic debate cycle, abortion rights advocates have been using the hashtag #AskAboutAbortion to urge debate moderators to question candidates about their positions on abortion rights and their plans to protect access. The hashtag was originally created by abortion rights advocate Renee Bracey Sherman to pressure debate moderators during the 2016 election cycle. As the upcoming debates are among the final chances for candidates to discuss abortion rights on a national stage as early voting starts, it is crucial for February’s debate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion.
In the first seven debates of the 2020 cycle, thus far:
- There have been only seven questions from moderators about abortion, with four of the seven debates featuring zero questions on the issue.
- Candidates have mentioned abortion 16 times without being prompted by the moderators. Two of the debates had no mention of abortion or reproductive rights at all.
- The word “abortion” has been mentioned only 30 times over seven debates: 16 times by moderators and 14 times by candidates.
- Only 24 minutes have been spent discussing abortion or reproductive rights over seven debates, with two debates featuring no discussion of abortion. The most time dedicated to abortion in one debate occurred on October 15, 2019, with 9 minutes and 56 seconds of discussion.
Moderators of the February debates can improve not only on the number of questions asked about abortion, but also on the framing of the questions being posed. Most of the seven previous questions from moderators have focused on whether candidates would push for the codification of Roe v. Wade to protect abortion access in the event the Supreme Court overturns or weakens the decision. This is not the most productive conversation for candidates and voters given that a future president would probably not have the ability to create a viable solution to this problem. In addition, two of the seven questions moderators have asked relied on right-wing media talking points about the alleged “extremism” of Democratic candidates on abortion.
Here are some topics debate moderators could ask about instead:
- Reproductive justice: Reproductive justice is a framework created by a group of Black women in 1994 to better and more holistically understand abortion access as part of a broader system of intersecting needs, beliefs, and factors. Moderators could ask candidates what policies must be implemented or changed to ensure access for everyone.
- The Hyde Amendment: The Hyde Amendment is a budgetary rider that prohibits federal health care programs from covering abortion services except in very limited circumstances. The amendment creates a significant barrier to accessing safe and legal abortion for low-income patients and others who have insurance through the government.
- Undoing President Donald Trump’s executive orders and actions: Trump's executive orders and administrative actions on abortion access include the prohibition of federal funding for overseas organizations that perform or refer patients for abortions and the implementation of a complementary policy at the domestic level, which forced Planned Parenthood clinics to decline Title X family planning funding. Trump’s Health and Human Services Department has proposed a number of additional policies and taken related actions aimed at restricting access to abortion.
- Anti-abortion misinformation: Over the last year, right-wing media and abortion opponents have ramped up their promotion of dangerous misinformation about abortion -- rhetoric that has influenced broader media and political discourse. The candidates could discuss how they might assist in creating national awareness around abortion misinformation and also any potential plans to combat its spread.