The Georgia Democratic debate is the ideal venue for moderators to center abortion rights

Image of Georgia with pro-choice slogans on state

Citation Ceci Freed / Media Matters

Across six nights of debates, moderators have asked Democratic presidential candidates only five questions about abortion. With the next debate scheduled to take place in Georgia, moderators from MSNBC and The Washington Post should acknowledge the fraught landscape of abortion access in the state by centering abortion and reproductive rights in their questions.

On November 20, the next Democratic presidential primary debate will take place in Atlanta. Ten candidates have qualified for the debate, which will be hosted by MSNBC and The Washington Post. All of the moderators for this debate are women: MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Andrea Mitchell, NBC News’ Kristen Welker and The Washington Post’s Ashley Parker.

Following a lack of focus on abortion access in previous Democratic primary debates in 2019, abortion rights advocates revived a campaign launched during the 2016 presidential election encouraging moderators to #AskAboutAbortion. Moderators can and should improve the discussion by not avoiding the word “abortion,” using inclusive language about the topic, asking about structural causes of inequitable abortion access, and talking about abortion in the context of health care -- not just as a political controversy.

As Democratic primary debates continue during the 2020 election cycle, Media Matters will maintain an updated scorecard of the questions and discussions about abortion and reproductive rights. So far:

  • Moderators have asked five questions about abortion. The two-night debate in July as well as the September 12 debate each featured zero abortion-related questions.
  • Candidates have brought up abortion or reproductive rights 14 times without a moderator’s prompting. The September debate had zero mentions of candidate-generated mentions of abortion or reproductive rights.
  • Moderators and candidates have collectively said the word “abortion” 20 times.
  • Discussions of abortion and reproductive rights have accounted for only 18 minutes and 23 seconds of approximately 15 hours of debates.

Moderators of the next debate can improve the conversation about abortion, and they should, especially considering the immediate threats to abortion and reproductive health access in Georgia. The state already ranks last in maternal mortality, and around half of its counties lack an OB-GYN. In May, Gov. Brian Kemp signed into law a ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy -- a point at which many people wouldn’t even be aware they are pregnant. A judge temporarily blocked the enforcement of the law in October. The law also would have criminalized doctors for performing an abortion after six weeks, and as Politico wrote, “conferred full legal rights on fetuses.” As reproductive justice organization SisterSong highlighted in its lawsuit against the state, the law would have a disproportionate impact on people of color and low-income communities.

Earlier this year, Georgia's attack on abortion access sparked national attention and backlash. Given that similar threats to abortion access are playing out across the country, November’s debate is the perfect opportunity for moderators from MSNBC and The Washington Post to address the precarious state of abortion access in the United States. It all starts with moderators deciding to #AskAboutAbortion.