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How the Next President Can Expand Reproductive Freedom

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In Los Angeles in early May, I woke up at 5:30 am to a barrage of texts and phone calls. The day before, the Alabama Legislature had passed a law banning abortion completely. This move came on the heels of the Georgia General Assembly criminalizing abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy. I was in LA with former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams to talk to film industry leaders about how they could challenge that law, given their extensive investments in her state. The Alabama ban was a tipping point, and women across the country were rising in anger, frustration, and disgust over the attacks on our reproductive freedoms.

Among the calls were several from presidential contenders who wanted to put together plans to address the erosion of reproductive rights by the Trump administration and the state-level attacks that started years ago in the form of 20-week bans, mandatory waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, and much more. In all, 20 presidential candidates spoke out that day.

It hadn’t always been so. In 2016, when reproductive freedom and justice groups pushed debate moderators to ask then–presidential primary candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders about the threats to reproductive rights as a part of the #AskAboutAbortion campaign, we were mostly dismissed by the media and the political elite. Despite the attacks on reproductive freedom that were well underway, many in the Democratic Party and the progressive movement didn’t understand the toll of these escalating assaults on the ability of women to access abortion, birth control, and prenatal care—not coincidentally, assaults that are primarily felt by poor women, rural women, immigrant women, and women of color. Given the complacency of many at the top, including in the media, only one question was asked about abortion rights during the primary debates—the very last one.

Clinton and Sanders were both pro-choice, so people scoffed, “Why should we waste our time on that?” Having our concerns minimized came as no surprise to those of us who do the work. We explained again and again that pro-choice values are great, but we expect plans.

To their credit, Clinton and Sanders didn’t shy away from the issue. When asked, they were aggressive in response, and as the nominee, Clinton led the charge to insert in the Democratic Party platform a call to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortion services. Still, the conversation existed on the margins for most pundits and observers.

That brings us to today. Through fiat in the federal agencies and an unapologetic takeover of the judicial system, President Donald Trump has thrust the question of access to abortion—and all it represents about control and freedom—to the center of the 2020 presidential election.

So far, the Democratic field has risen to the occasion. Candidates have advanced explicit positions on abortion rights, and all the major ones support the repeal of the Hyde Amendment and the decades-long discrimination it embodies. That commitment was tested this year when Joe Biden reversed his stance on the issue—vowing to lift the ban on abortion funding for low-income women after quick and severe public criticism.

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Thanks !

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