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Democratic Presidential Candidates Have Finally Truly Embraced the Fight for Abortion Rights

Abortion rights protest sign

Headline Ideas: Supporting Reproductive Rights Has Become the New Floor in the Presidential Race

Finally, Reproductive Rights Have Become More than a Backburner Issue for Democrats

Welcome to The Week in Reproductive Justice, a weekly recap of all news related to the hot-button issue of what lawmakers are allowing women to do with their bodies!

If you’ve followed American politics for more than the last week, you might be a bit surprised to find that, recently, reproductive rights—and abortion rights, specifically—have arguably become the most central issue in the presidential race, and national politics in general.

Even among predominantly pro-choice, Democratic lawmakers, reproductive rights have long been sidelined from mainstream political conversation, or treated with plans or speeches without much thought beyond that ambiguous, oft-repeated promise to “protect women’s right to choose.” Many politicians—even those who support abortion rights—have jumped through hoops to avoid saying the word “abortion” itself, while leading Democrats from Nancy Pelosi to Bernie Sanders have referred to abortion rights as a “fading issue,” or just a “social issue,” respectively, to justify supporting anti-abortion Democrats.

Abortion rights have long been disdained by the one leading political party that supports reproductive rights, treated as either irrelevant or disdainful. This is, of course, despite how support for abortion rights objectively ranks among the most popular positions of the Democratic Party, with 73 percent of Americans’ support, and while the state of reproductive rights has deteriorated rapidly in recent years—well before 2019, with more than a third of all 1,200 abortion restrictions since Roe v. Wade enacted between 2011 and 2018 alone—this deterioration has become suddenly, terrifyingly visible as of this month.

Following a month that has seen Alabama and Georgia pass virtually all-out abortion bans, with a handful of other states readying to follow their lead, and early months of 2019 with dozens of abortion restrictions already introduced, passed, or signed into law, the tide seems to have finally shifted in the Democratic Party. With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, Trump-appointed federal judges like Wendy Vitter filing into the judicial branch, and a new abortion ban seemingly popping up each week, the harsh truth women and activists have spent years—decades—warning of can no longer be avoided.

Thankfully, Democratic presidential candidates have been stepping up. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Cory Booker have all released thorough and unique plans to protect and expand reproductive rights, including nominating only judges who pledge to respect Roe v. Wade, repealing the Hyde Amendment that bans federal funding from paying for abortion services, establishing an executive office specifically for reproductive rights issues, signing a federal law protecting Roe, and prohibiting state anti-abortion laws, among others. Kamala Harris has reintroduced her Maternal CARE Act bill in the Senate, and in the last week, nearly all Democratic presidential candidates have responded to the bans in Alabama and Georgia with swift, unequivocal promises to defend abortion rights.

In other words, it’s starting to feel like standing up for reproductive rights and abortion access is the new floor, the minimum, in Democratic politics, where it once felt like overachievement. In light of the threats we face today—threats that have been a long time coming, and a long time in the making—ambiguously pledging to “support the right to choose” is no longer sufficient. It never should have been, really, but the fact that we’re finally seeing more being asked of leading politicians, and seeing them respond, is indicative of much-needed progress.

Vermont and Nevada move to roll back abortion restrictions

In the face of so many alarming abortion bans being introduced and passing across the country, some states are stepping up to ensure that abortion rights remain protected within their borders.

This week, Vermont’s Republican, pro-choice Gov. Phil Scott expressed his intent to sign HB 57, a bill to recognize abortion as a “fundamental right” and “prohibit public entities from interfering with or restricting the right of an individual to terminate the individual’s pregnancy.” HB 57, which has passed both Vermont’s Democratic-controlled House and Senate, would additionally protect “rights to choose or refuse contraception or sterilization or to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, to give birth to a child, or to obtain an abortion.”

Meanwhile, in Nevada, the state’s predominantly pro-choice, female state Representatives this week passed legislation that would eliminate anti-abortion requirements, including one mandatory counseling law that requires providers to warn pregnant patients about the alleged “emotional implications” of abortions. SB 179, the Trust Nevada Women Act, would also remove potential criminal penalties for self-managed abortion care. The bill now moves to the Democratic-controlled Senate, and Gov. Steve Sisolak is expected to sign it.

Vermont and Nevada’s strong responses to the recent, escalated nationwide war on reproductive rights are exactly what we need to see from all states with strong pro-choice majorities, but it’s also important to remember that reproductive rights shouldn’t be contingent on geography. They should be a federally recognized human right, accessible to all people anywhere in the country. As threats to Roe v. Wade continue to mount and abortion rights could potentially be handed down to the states, a federal law to protect abortion rights has never been more important.

California bill to bring abortion to college campuses advances

It feels like we’ve been hearing recurring news updates about this bill for forever, but this week, California’s SB 24, a bill to bring privately funded medication abortion access to all public state universities, passed the state Senate.

A previous version of SB 24, SB 320, passed both the Senate and Assembly in 2018, only for former Gov. Jerry Brown to veto the bill. At the time, Brown claimed the bill was “unnecessary” because abortion is supposedly already accessible enough, despite how 40 percent of California counties lack abortion providers, and hundreds of University of California students seek out medication abortion off campus each month.

The concept of SB 24 was introduced to the California state legislature by student activists at UC Berkeley, who testified about experiences with missing classes, internships, and paid work to leave campus to access abortion care. Students from some universities recalled being forced to travel significant distances to access their nearest abortion clinic, or struggling to afford the care they needed to stay in school on their student budgets.

The bill now moves to receive a vote in the Assembly, where it is expected to pass, and will then move to the desk of Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has previously expressed his intent to sign the bill. If signed, SB 24 would take effect in January 2023.

Tune in next week to see what lawmakers will try next in their never-ending mission to derail reproductive justice!

(image: Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com)

Kylie Cheung writes about feminism and politics, with a focus on reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kylietcheung, or learn more about her writing at www.kyliecheung.tumblr.com.

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