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How Democrats Defended Abortion at the Debate

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Former Vice President Joe Biden is the best evidence of how far to the left Democrats have moved on the abortion issue. Throughout his career in the Senate, which began shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe, Biden stuck to a moderate’s line: While he understood that abortion may need to be legal, he felt personally uncomfortable with it, he said. He consistently voted for the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the federal government from paying for most abortions through its public programs.

After facing significant criticism on the campaign trail this year, however, Biden reversed his position, saying he would work to repeal the Hyde Amendment as president. On the debate stage last night, he reaffirmed his new stance, calling for the legislative codification of the principles laid out in Roe. “The public is already there,” he said. “Things have changed.”

Biden also vowed to campaign against legislators in states such as Ohio and Alabama, which have passed restrictive abortion laws. “Reproductive rights are a constitutional right, and, in fact, every woman should have that right,” he said. Notably missing from his impassioned answer, however, was the word abortion. Other candidates’ answers followed directly in this spirit, diverging little on matters of policy.

The big exception was Gabbard. “I agree with Hillary Clinton on one thing,” she said. “In the 1990s, when Bill Clinton was president and she said abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, I think she’s correct.” As a presidential candidate, of course, Hillary Clinton effectively reversed this position, all but embracing abortion up until the end of pregnancy.

Last night, Gabbard defied the rest of the Democratic field, arguing that there should be restrictions in place.

“I support codifying Roe v. Wade while making sure that during the third trimester, abortion is not an option unless the life or severe health consequences of the woman are at risk,” she said.

Leana Wen, the recently ousted president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, cheered Gabbard’s answer. It was “courageous” of Gabbard “to bring up nuances,” Wen tweeted. “Most Americans hold complex truths: they can both personally oppose abortion & support others’ right to choose; they can both feel uncomfortable about abortion & not want women to die from back-alley procedures.”

Gabbard’s views line up with the American public’s much more closely than the rest of the Democratic candidates’ do. Two-thirds of Americans have consistently told Gallup that they believe third-trimester abortions should generally be illegal, outside of dangerous medical situations. Democratic voters are far more likely than Republican voters to say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases, but even those voters are split on whether there should be some legal limits on the procedure, according to the Pew Research Center.

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