On September 22, a coalition of reproductive rights groups, including NARAL Pro-Choice America, UltraViolet, All* Above All Action Fund, National Organization for Women, Feminist Majority, and CREDO, issued a joint letter encouraging NBC News’ Lester Holt, moderator of the first presidential debate on Monday, September 26, to “press the candidates on their plans to address the crisis in abortion access in our country.”
The letter proposes three potential questions asking the presidential nominees, if elected president, how would they “ensure that the constitutional right to abortion is guaranteed to all Americans,” would they allow or restrict a pregnant woman infected with Zika to access abortion, and “what steps would [the candidates] take to reverse maternal mortality in this country?”
During the Democratic primary, critics called out debate moderators for failing to ask either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders questions about abortion, including starting a Twitter hashtag #AskAboutAbortion. Eventually, Clinton and Sanders were asked abortion-related questions during Fox News’ March 7 Town Hall. Pro-choice group have revived the hashtag campaign prior to Monday’s presidential debate.
While many topics deserve the candidates’ consideration—from job creation to immigration to national security—safe and reliable access to abortion is fundamental to all Americans’ ability to determine our own destinies. One in three women in this country has had an abortion, and the majority (over 60%) are mothers who are trying to take care of the families they already have. Despite the fact that seven in 10 Americans support legal abortion, many in government are actively trying and succeeding in blocking access to what is, at its core, a constitutionally protected right. Consider the following facts, which paint a picture of dwindling access to abortion across the country:
- 261 anti-choice laws have passed through state legislatures since 2010
- 27 states have anti-choice legislatures where both chambers are anti-choice
- 87% of counties in this country have no abortion provider at all
Throughout this presidential campaign, we’ve heard Hillary Clinton outline her plan to expand abortion access by repealing the discriminatory Hyde Amendment, and we’ve heard Donald Trump say that a woman should be punished for her decision to have an abortion. These starkly different approaches to such important issues deserve to be contested on the national debate stage. Voters deserve a fulsome debate on how to expand access to abortion so they can decide for themselves which candidate will do right by their family.
In presidential debates since at least 1984, moderators have typically posed questions on abortion that border on entirely theoretical because they focus on extreme outlier cases. We hope that your questions capture the true needs of women and the lived experiences surrounding abortion access.
UPDATE: Ahead of the October 9 presidential debate between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, eight reproductive rights organizations renewed their call for debate moderators to ask the candidates about abortion, after the topic was not discussed in the first debate.