image of three microphones on stands
Ceci Freed / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Scorecard: How reproductive justice and the Hyde Amendment are being discussed during the Democratic primary debates

  • Through the first six debates, moderators have brought up the topic of abortion inconsistently, and their questions have centered on discussing the legality of abortion while largely ignoring important concerns about protecting and expanding access to abortion and broader issues of reproductive justice.

  • Reproductive justice is a framework for understanding reproductive rights and social justice created by a group of Black women in 1994 to address problems inherent in the pro-choice movement as governed mostly by white women. Instead of examining abortion as a question of individual choice, the reproductive justice movement starts from a human rights framework and understanding that people make reproductive decisions based on complex, varied, and intersecting aspects of their identity, including race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexuality, class, immigration status, and religion.

  • In addition to largely ignoring reproductive justice as a topic, moderators have also thus far failed to interrogate candidates’ positions on repealing the Hyde Amendment. The amendment restricts federal funds for abortion services -- creating a significant barrier to accessing safe and legal abortion for low-income patients and others who have insurance through the government. Given that the Hyde Amendment is attached to the federal budget, a president can pressure Congress to exclude it during the budgeting process. A president can also write their own budget without the Hyde Amendment in it, making candidates' stances a highly relevant question for moderators.

  • In spite of these facts, however, through six debates -- the first half of the 12 planned debates of the 2020 Democratic primary cycle -- no moderator has explicitly raised questions about reproductive justice or the Hyde Amendment. Only five candidates have mentioned reproductive justice or the Hyde Amendment: former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, former Vice President Joe Biden, and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Kamala Harris (D-CA). Of the candidates discussing these topics in the debates so far, the majority are people of color, however, only Biden has qualified for the January 14 debate. Given that the rest of the candidates who have spoken up about these topics have now dropped out of the race, moderators have even more reason to ask the remaining candidates their views and policy positions on these issues.

  • Here’s how reproductive justice and the Hyde Amendment have been discussed during the first half of the Democratic primary debate cycle:

  • How many times has reproductive justice been mentioned during the debates?

  • Total mentions of “reproductive justice”: 3

    • Debate 1 (June 26-27, 2019): 1
    • Debate 2 (July 30-31, 2019): 0
    • Debate 3 (September 12, 2019): 0
    • Debate 4 (October 15, 2019): 1
    • Debate 5 (November 20, 2019): 1
    • Debate 6 (December 19, 2019): 0
  • Candidate mentions of “reproductive justice” :

    Debate 1

    From the June 26, 2019, Democratic primary debate:

  • JULIÀN CASTRO: I don't believe only in reproductive freedom, I believe in reproductive justice. And, you know, what that means is that just because a woman -- or let's also not forget someone in the trans community, a trans female, is poor, doesn't mean they shouldn't have the right to exercise that right to choose. And so I absolutely would cover the right to have an abortion.

  • Debate 4

    From the October 15, 2019, Democratic primary debate:

  • JULIÀN CASTRO: I would also make sure that I appoint as president people who respect the precedent of Roe v. Wade, that we codify Roe v. Wade, and that we do away with things like the Hyde amendment, because you shouldn't only be able to have reproductive freedom if you have money. We have to think about people who do not, people who are poor. And we have to concern ourselves not only with reproductive freedom, but also reproductive justice and invest in the ability of every woman to be able to make a choice and to be able to have her health care needs met.

  • Debate 5

    From the November 20, 2019, Democratic primary debate:

  • SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: And in this election, justice and the various injustices people are facing regardless of where they live or their race or gender are very much on the ballot, from economic justice to reproductive justice to health care justice to educational justice. And I truly believe that when we overcome these injustices, we will then unlock the potential of the American people and the promise of America, and that's the America I believe in. That's the America I see.

  • How many times has the Hyde Amendment been mentioned during the debates?

  • Total mentions of “Hyde”: 9

    • Debate 1 (June 26-27): 2
    • Debate 2 (July 30-31): 5
    • Debate 3 (September 12): 0
    • Debate 4 (October 15): 2
    • Debate 5 (November 20): 0
    • Debate 6 (December 19): 0
  • Candidate mentions of “Hyde” :

    Debate 1

    From the June 27, 2019, Democratic primary debate:

  • SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: When the door is closed and negotiations are made, there are conversations about women's rights and compromises have been made on our backs. That's how we got to Hyde, that's how the Hyde Amendment was created, a compromise by leaders of both parties.

  • Debate 2

    From the July 31, 2019, Democratic primary debate:

  • SEN. KAMALA HARRIS: Well, I just -- listen, I mean talk about now running for president, you change your position on the Hyde Amendment, Vice President, where you mad a decision for years to withhold resources to poor women to have access to reproductive healthcare and including women who were the victims of rape and incest.

  • JOE BIDEN: The fact is that the senator knows that that's not position. Everybody on this stage has been in the Congress and the Senate or House has voted for the Hyde Amendment at some point. The Hyde Amendment in the past was available because there was other access for those kinds of services provided privately. But once I wrote the legislation, making sure that every single woman would in fact be have an opportunity to have healthcare paid for by the federal government, everyone that -- that could no longer stand.

  • HARRIS: Well why did it take you so long to change your position in the Hyde Amendment. Why did it take so long until you were running for president to change your position on the Hyde?

    BIDEN: Because there was not full federal funding for all reproductive services prior to this point.

  • Debate 4

    From the October 15, 2019, Democratic primary debate:

  • SEN. CORY BOOKER: I will also make sure that we fight as this country to repeal the Hyde amendment, so that we are leading the Planet Earth in defending the global assault we see on women right now.

  • JULIÀN CASTRO: I would also make sure that I appoint as president people who respect the precedent of Roe v. Wade, that we codify Roe v. Wade, and that we do away with things like the Hyde amendment, because you shouldn't only be able to have reproductive freedom if you have money. We have to think about people who do not, people who are poor.