Democrats Had a Debate and Nobody Said "Abortion." Not Once.

Abortion rights activists weren’t pleased the issue got virtually no airtime.
One of the most explosive fights of the year was barely mentioned in the Democratic debates in Detroit this week: the battle over abortion.

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One of the most explosive fights of the year was barely mentioned in the Democratic debates in Detroit this week: the battle over abortion.

CNN moderators didn’t ask the candidates a single question about abortion in either of the two nights of debate, and none of the candidates brought up the word. Bizarrely, in Wednesday night’s pointed exchange about the issue, neither California Sen. Kamala Harris nor former Vice President Joe Biden even used the word abortion.


Harris went after Biden for recently flip-flopping on his support for the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal dollars from being used for abortions except in limited circumstances. All of the top Democratic presidential candidates have said (but not at these debates) that they now do not support Hyde.

“You made a decision for years to withhold resources to poor women to have access to reproductive health care, and, including women who were the victims of rape and incest," Harris told Biden. “Do you now say that you have evolved and you regret that? Because you've only since you've been running for president this time said that you in some way would take that back or you didn't agree with that decision you made for many, many years."

Biden countered that many of his rivals for the nomination have indeed voted for the Hyde Amendment, since it’s usually part of the annual budget for the Department of Health and Human Services. Plus, he added, his proposed health care plan does offer public options for women to receive what he called “health care” (presumably, meaning abortion).

“The Hyde Amendment in the past was available because there was other access for those kinds of services provided privately, but once I wrote the legislation making sure that every single woman would in fact have an opportunity to have health care paid for by the federal government — everyone — that could no longer stand,” Biden told Harris. “I support a woman’s right to choose.”

While NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood applauded Harris for bringing up the Hyde Amendment in this round of debates, abortion rights activists weren’t pleased that the issue got virtually no airtime.

“Voters need to know what candidates will do to protect their reproductive health care — yet tonight all they got was deafening silence,” Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “We’re talking about our health, our rights, our futures. We can, and we must, do better.”

In the wake of mass public outcry over Alabama’s passage of a near-total abortion ban earlier this year and other states’ attacks on abortion rights, polling suggests that Americans are poised to factor abortion access into their vote in the 2020 elections. Slightly less than a third of all voters told CNN in a June poll that they would only vote for a major office candidate who shared their views on abortion, the highest-ever share in more than two decades’ of polling on the question.

Cover: From left, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., participate in the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Wednesday, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)