WASHINGTON—A resurgence of legislation about the rights of unborn babies in states across the country has set up abortion to become a flashpoint issue in the 2020 presidential campaign.
Public debate about the rights of the unborn ignited last week after Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a law protecting babies in her state from abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and a number of other states have passed laws recently that safeguard the unborn early in pregnancy and protect them from brutal abortion methods. State legislators hope to take advantage of a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that could eventually overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that led to the legalization of abortion nationwide. It is unclear so far whether the high court will consider the constitutionality of any of these state laws.
In response, Democratic lawmakers on the national stage are upping their verbal commitments to expanding abortion to energize their base, while President Donald Trump is warning that if he’s not reelected the pro-life gains made in the first 2½ years of his presidency could be in jeopardy after 2020.
Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have all backed repealing the Hyde Amendment, the 1976 law that prohibits federal funding from going toward abortion. On Friday, Warren released a plan calling for Congress to codify legal abortion in hopes of preventing a Supreme Court ruling that would protect more unborn lives.
Booker announced Wednesday he would add an “office of reproductive freedom” to the White House if elected. The office would advise his administration on how to make abortion more widely available. He also pledged to repeal the Global Protect Life policy, formerly known as the Mexico City policy, which keeps American taxpayer dollars from funding international projects that involve abortion. Earlier this month, Booker told BuzzFeed News he, like Warren, would sign legislation passed by Congress to codify Roe v. Wade into national law so the Supreme Court could not reverse it.
Even self-described moderate candidates have fallen into lockstep with pro-abortion positions. Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has in the past struggled with the issue and once told a Catholic magazine that “abortion is always wrong,” recently told an American Civil Liberties Union volunteer that the Hyde Amendment “can’t stay.”
Those positions represent quite a shift from former President Bill Clinton’s stance that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare,” David Thornton, a contributor to The Resurgent noted. “It’s a litmus test for Democrats. You have to be pro-choice, and everybody has to be more pro-choice than the last one.”
Matt Carpenter, deputy director of state and local affairs for the Family Research Council, described the Democratic position as abortion on demand “throughout all stages of pregnancy on the taxpayer dime,” adding, “They’re in the Planned Parenthood primary now.”
Trump waded into the debate with a tweet on Saturday that sought to shape the 2020 race as a referendum on the sanctity of life. He described his own position as “strongly pro-life” and noted he had appointed more than 100 lower court judges and two Supreme Court Justices. Shortly after taking office, he reinstated what was then known as the Mexico City policy after President Barack Obama put it on hold and strengthened it in March of this year.
“The Radical Left, with late-term abortion (and worse), is imploding on this issue,” the president said in his tweet. “We must stick together and Win for Life in 2020. If we are foolish and do not stay UNITED as one, all of our hard fought gains for Life can, and will, rapidly disappear.”
In Kentucky, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who signed a bill in March that protects unborn babies from abortions after six weeks’ gestation, narrowly fended off a primary challenge Tuesday night. In November, he will face the states’ Democratic attorney general, Andy Beshear, who has refused to defend Kentucky’s pro-life laws in court.
Thornton noted that polling has shown many Americans, even self-described “pro-choice” voters, favor some restrictions on abortion. A 2018 Gallup poll found that 65 percent of Americans said abortion should be illegal after the first three months of pregnancy. And Politico reported that about a quarter of voters described a president’s policies on abortion as “extremely important to their presidential vote choice.”
Carpenter said efforts to expand late-term abortions in New York and Virginia, as well as talk of enshrining abortion into federal law by Democratic candidates, could backfire as the debate over unborn lives continues to gain steam.
“2020 could be one of the first elections where the country is evenly split on pro-life and pro-abortion,” he said.