With near-total bans on abortion passing in state after state — and others responding by loosening restrictions on the procedure — the right to terminate a pregnancy is emerging as a major election issue in 2020.
When CNN pollsters asked Iowa Democratic voters earlier this month what issues were must-haves in a presidential candidate, support for abortion rights came out on top, with 79 percent of in-person caucus-goers listing it as crucial. And on Saturday, voters will get to hear 20 of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates speak on abortion and broader issues of reproductive justice — including maternal mortality and contraceptive access — at a forum convened by Planned Parenthood.
While many candidates condemned the restrictive anti-abortion laws passing in Alabama and elsewhere earlier this year, fewer put forth specific policies for defending reproductive rights. Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker stood out from the field by issuing detailed plans for safeguarding abortion access.
Since then, more candidates have made policy statements — like expressing support for the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would enshrine in federal statute the right to an abortion guaranteed by Roe v. Wade. But Vox wanted to take a holistic look at the abortion-rights policies of all 24 candidates in the race. So we asked all of them what their positions were on abortion rights and access, and what policies they’d support to make this a reality.
While not every candidate responded to Vox’s direct inquiry, all 24 have discussed their position on abortion rights in some capacity in the past. For the candidates who did not respond to our request, we examined statements they’ve made in interviews, town halls, and reports in other publications including BuzzFeed, ThinkProgress and HuffPost.
Some of the candidates offered Vox more details than others about how they’d protect reproductive rights. Booker, for example, says he would create a White House Office of Reproductive Freedom, while Harris said she’d require states that have passed laws that violate Roe in recent years to obtain DOJ approval for any abortion-related laws they’d like to implement down the line.
But what stands out at this point in the Democratic primary campaign — and could be highlighted at the Planned Parenthood forum on Saturday — is the extent to which the candidates have converged around a series of policies on abortion that would have seemed remarkably progressive just five years ago, especially when it comes to the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for most abortions. As the Republican Party has backed increasingly restrictive laws, the Democratic Party has responded by moving toward increasing and multi-layered support for abortion rights.
Many Democrats have converged around a set of policies to protect abortion rights and access
In our survey, a few commonalities quickly emerged. Many of the candidates we heard from support the following policies:
- Repealing the Hyde Amendment. The ban on federal funding for abortions bars Medicaid from covering the procedure, putting it out of reach for many low-income Americans. The president doesn’t have the power to repeal Hyde; that authority rests with Congress. But presidential pressure to repeal Hyde still matters, and since Hyde was often treated as politically untouchable before 2016, the fact that so many Democratic candidates now back its repeal is a sign of the times.
- Codifying Roe v. Wade in statute. In May, Sens. Gillibrand, Warren, and others put forth plans calling on Congress to make the right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade a part of federal law, so that it would stand even if Roe is overturned. Such a law could be challenged in court in the event of a repeal of Roe, but candidates see it as an important bulwark against the loss of reproductive rights. Like a repeal of Hyde, this is something only Congress could accomplish.
- Repealing the domestic and global gag rules. Like every Republican president since Reagan, President Trump reinstated the global gag rule, which bars organizations abroad that take American aid from providing or discussing abortion (Trump expanded this rule to apply to a larger pool of money than in previous administrations). He then went further by imposing a domestic gag rule, barring organizations in the United States that receive federal family planning funds under Title X from providing or referring patients for the procedure. Unlike repealing Hyde or codifying Roe, this is something a president could do without help from Congress. It’s also a reminder that the Trump administration has taken a number of actions to restrict both abortion and contraceptive access; the next president would have the power to roll any of these back.
- A Roe litmus test for federal judges, including Supreme Court justices. Several candidates (though not all) have said they would only appoint judges who support Roe v. Wade to the federal court system. Trump made the opposite promise in 2016 and has made good on it by appointing Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as well as judges seen as anti-abortion to lower federal courts — it’s largely because of his appointments that Roe is at risk today. It’s unclear how many opportunities the next president will have to make a Supreme Court appointment, but lower federal judges also hold great influence over the interpretation of abortion law. And, like repealing the gag rules, this is an action the president can take (though judges do require congressional approval).
Given how similar the candidates’ response are overall, we spoke with NARAL, an advocacy group that’s fought for stronger protections for abortion rights, about how to best differentiate them from one another.
The key thing to look out for, according to NARAL Vice President of Communications Adrienne Kimmell, is more specifics. Since repealing Hyde and codifying Roe have become baseline positions, candidates who are able to offer more details in their proposals suggest that they’ve engaged with the issue further.
“Voters should look for candidates who step up with concrete plans to protect access to care and guarantee reproductive freedom for every American,” she says. “We’re heartened to see that candidates like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, and Kirsten Gillibrand are already leading the way by announcing specific plans laying out how they would defend reproductive freedom.”
Some of the Democratic candidates support abortion-rights policies beyond the commonly shared positions on Hyde and Roe as well. It’s also important to note that while we chose to focus on abortion for the purpose of this survey, many advocates see that right as part of a larger spectrum of issues, including maternal health (the subject of another survey to be published soon) and equal access to health care for people of all races and genders.
Here’s where the candidates stand on abortion based on responses they shared — and other public statements
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
“I believe in Roe v. Wade,” the senator said at a Fox News town hall in May. “Of course, there are limits there in the third trimester that are very important,” she added. “But, I think overall, what we want to do is make sure women have the right to make their own decisions.”
In an interview with Fox News later that month, she said, “If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade I would make sure that we are codifying Roe v. Wade into law.” She has also co-sponsored legislation to repeal the Hyde Amendment.
The entrepreneur supports codifying Roe, repealing Hyde, and providing “safe and affordable abortion services” to all Americans. “I have the feeling that if men became pregnant instead of women, there would be absolutely no restriction on reproductive rights,” he said in a statement on his campaign website.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
“Bernie believes that abortion is a constitutional right for all women,” said Sarah Ford, deputy communications director for the Sanders campaign.
The senator supports a Roe litmus test for judges, and his Medicare-for-All plan would make abortion free to all patients, effectively making the Hyde Amendment moot. He is also a cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would codify Roe in federal statute.
The former congressman from Texas has released a reproductive rights plan that includes repealing Hyde and guaranteeing private insurance coverage for abortion, codifying Roe in statute, and “appointing judges who respect Roe v. Wade as the settled law of the land.” He also promises, if elected, to reverse the Trump administration’s domestic gag rule. And he says he would direct the Food and Drug Administration to remove “labeling regulations that impose barriers to the use of medication-based abortions.”
“Beto would mobilize the full force of the federal government to protect women’s reproductive rights and access to abortion,” a spokeswoman for the campaign told Vox. “Throughout Beto’s career, he has fought to protect women’s access to health care and their right to make their own decisions about their bodies, dating back to his first run for Congress where he took on a Democratic primary opponent who opposed federal funding for Planned Parenthood.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
The mayor has supported repealing Hyde. He’s previously called out former Vice President Joe Biden for his prior position backing Hyde. “If you don’t support repeal, you shouldn’t be the Democratic nominee,” de Blasio said in a tweet.
New York City has also been at the forefront of expanding abortion rights during de Blasio’s tenure. Most recently, it became the first city in the country to directly fund abortions.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ)
The senator released a reproductive rights plan on May 22, amid the passage of state-level abortion bans around the country. In it, he pledges to work to repeal Hyde and codify Roe in statute, as well as to nominate judges who are supportive of Roe.
In addition, he promises to take a number of executive actions to protect reproductive rights, including ending the domestic and global gag rules, reversing the Trump administration’s guidelines prioritizing abstinence-based programs for federal teen-pregnancy prevention funding, and undoing the administration’s rules allowing health care providers to refuse to perform abortions on the basis of their “conscience” or religion.
If elected, the senator says he would also create a White House Office of Reproductive Freedom, “charged with coordinating and affirmatively advancing abortion rights and access to reproductive health care across my administration — addressing all barriers to full reproductive autonomy, such as access to health care, including maternal and infant health, quality, affordable child care, and comprehensive paid family leave.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
Warren was among the first candidates to put forth a detailed reproductive rights plan. The plan, released May 17, calls for codifying Roe in statute, repealing Hyde and the domestic gag rule, and guaranteeing private insurance coverage for abortion.
“We must build a future that protects the right of all women to have children, the right of all women to not have children, and the right to bring children up in a safe and healthy environment,” Warren wrote in announcing her plan.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA)
Swalwell is an original cosponsor of the EACH Woman Act, which would repeal Hyde. He is also a cosponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act and of legislation to repeal the global gag rule. As president, he would support codifying Roe in statute, according to his campaign.
“We will defend Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose at all costs,” Swalwell said in a statement to Vox. “As president, I’ll work with Congress to protect women’s control of their own bodies without government interference and ensure women in every state retain access to abortion care. But I also want to encourage America’s young men to stand up and link arms with women in this fight — we need to be vocal, active allies in defending freedom.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee
Inslee supports repealing Hyde and codifying Roe in statute, his campaign said. As governor, he signed Washington state’s Reproductive Parity Act, which guarantees public and private insurance coverage for abortion, and he would support similar legislation as president. He would also repeal both domestic and global gag rules; the attorney general of Washington state was one of several to sue the Trump administration to block the domestic rule.
After stating in early June that he supports Hyde, Biden changed course and says he now believes the amendment should be repealed. The former vice president also supports codifying Roe in statute and repealing the global gag rule, according to his campaign. A practicing Catholic, Biden has said he is personally opposed to abortion. But, he said at a vice presidential debate in 2012, “I just refuse to impose that on others.”
Delaney supports repealing the Hyde Amendment, according to his campaign. His universal health care plan, BetterCare, would cover reproductive health care, including abortions.
The former Colorado governor supports repealing Hyde and increasing and protecting Title X family planning funding. “Governor Hickenlooper always has been a strong advocate of a woman’s right to choose,” a spokesperson for his campaign said. “He believes that all decisions should be made between a woman, her faith, and her doctor.”
The former Housing and Urban Development Secretary has committed to nominating judges and cabinet members who are “pro-choice.” Additionally, he backs repealing Hyde and codifying Roe v. Wade. “All women should have access to reproductive care, regardless of their income or the state they live in,” he previously wrote in a tweet.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
Harris is among the Democrats who’s offered a more detailed plan on abortion rights that seeks to curb state laws attempting to infringe on them. Under Harris’s proposal, which is modeled after the Voting Rights Act, states whose abortion-related laws have recently been struck down by courts for violating Roe would have to obtain federal approval from the Justice Department before they’re able to implement any new abortion laws.
“As president, I will stop dangerous state laws restricting reproductive rights before they go into effect,” Harris said in a statement. Harris also backs undoing Hyde, making Roe v. Wade law, and appointing pro-choice judges.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY)
Gillibrand has made gender equity and reproductive rights a central piece of her campaign and is considered a leader on the issue. She was the first 2020 Democrat to commit to appointing judges that support Roe, and in the wake of state laws restricting abortion access laid out a wide-ranging plan to protect abortion rights.
In addition to repealing Hyde and codifying Roe, Gillibrand supports undoing the gag rule the Trump administration has imposed. She would also establish a new funding stream in order to ensure that every state has a reproductive health center.
“We must come together to declare, loud and clear, that reproductive rights are human rights. They are civil rights. And they are nonnegotiable,” she wrote in a Medium post.
“I believe the decision of whether or not to have an abortion lies solely with the pregnant woman, according to the dictates of her conscience and in communion with the God of her understanding,” she notes on her campaign website. “I do not feel the government has an appropriate right to deny or restrict that decision.”
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO)
Bennet supports “enshrining Roe v. Wade into federal statute, preempting states that try to interfere with women’s health rights, repealing the Hyde Amendment, and standing up against other efforts to undermine access to necessary care,” according to a campaign spokesperson.
“Women’s reproductive rights are under assault all over the United States. Women’s health care is under assault all over the United States,” he said during a CNN town hall earlier this year. Bennet has also said he would only appoint judges that back Roe.
Former Alaskan Senator Gravel, a candidate who’s notably in the race in order to prompt debate, has an expansive and unique abortion rights agenda. Gravel’s landmark provision would tie an individual’s ability to become a specialized physician with a commitment to providing abortions.
“Our signature point on abortion access is mandating the ability and willingness to provide an abortion as a condition of obstetrician licensing,” according to a campaign spokesperson. “In addition, we support a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to an abortion, as well as lawmaking through the People’s legislature, a fourth branch of government that Mike Gravel supports setting up that would allow direct lawmaking by the American people.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg (South Bend, Ind.)
Buttigieg supports repealing Hyde, codifying Roe into law, and appointing judicial nominees who would support Roe. “The mayor is pro-choice and trusts women to make their own health care decisions. He also recognizes the harm in having men legislate women’s bodies,” said a campaign spokesperson.
Buttigieg has previously called for more men to speak out about abortion. “I think it’s particularly important from a political stance for men to stand up,” he said during a campaign event earlier this year, according to HuffPost.
Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA)
Moulton backs the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and enshrining Roe in federal law. He’s said undoing Hyde ensures that all women have the funding they need for health care and compared it to the funding the military needs.
“It’s sort of like saying, you know, I support the troops but don’t want to pay them,” Moulton said of Hyde, in a CNN interview. “That’s the analogy here, and I think it’s wrong.”
Moulton has also said he will exclusively appoint judges that support Roe and added that he backs Sen. Harris’s proposal to require DOJ review of certain state laws.
Gov. Steve Bullock (Montana)
Bullock supports ending Hyde, codifying Roe, and strengthening Title X funding, which provides money for family planning and preventative health care clinics (though the domestic gag rule currently restricts it to institutions that do not provide abortions).
“As governor, Bullock has stopped every single effort to restrict reproductive health care, and made Title X funding permanent so it would no longer be a political football,” a campaign spokesperson said.
“It’s not what I think, it’s what does an individual woman need to do with her body and with her health care,” Bullock recently told CNN.
Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH)
“I came in as a Catholic school kid from northeast Ohio who didn’t think a whole lot about the issue and went into Congress pro-life,” Ryan told BuzzFeed. “My opinion changed that there should not be anyone from the federal government between a woman and her doctor.”
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)
Gabbard is supportive of abortion rights, according to a campaign spokesperson, and would back using federal money to provide abortions. Gabbard has previously been anti-abortion but has since changed her position.
Mayor Wayne Messam (Miramar, Fla.)
Messam supports codifying Roe and using federal money to provide abortion services. He emphasized, in an interview with WBUR, that he sees Roe as “settled law.” “I think when a woman is faced with a tough decision to abort a pregnancy, it’s tough enough by itself to have to make such a personal decision — a tough decision to make — and currently right now in our country this issue has been demagogued, and I think that primarily us men are making the decisions in the laws,” he said.