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People hoping to hear Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on abortion during last night’s debate were left sorely disappointed.
Not a single minute was dedicated to the topic.
This comes at a time when reproductive freedom is under assault nationwide. States have recently passed some of the most restrictive abortion laws since Roe v. Wade guaranteed women the right to choose.
Americans are taking notice. In June, a nationwide poll by Monmouth University found that one-in-three Americans, and more Democrats than Republicans, rank abortion as a top issue in the 2020 elections.
Accordingly, many expected the Democratic candidates to face serious questions about reproductive freedom during last night’s presidential debate. Questions about abortion have inspired some of the most powerful moments in earlier debates.
ABC, which aired the debate, can’t take the position that it wasn’t on notice. A day prior, the network solicited suggestions for questions to ask the candidates. Planned Parenthood Action was among those who suggested abortion rights, tweeting, “Ask the candidates what they plan to do to reverse Trump’s attacks on our sexual and reproductive health care.”
The debate covered other important issues of the day, such as immigration, healthcare, and the trade war. But viewers interested in reproductive freedom were left hanging.
Not long after the debate concluded, presidential candidates Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) tweeted their disappointment that the three-hour event didn’t include any questions about abortion or reproductive rights. Some lamented that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who has made reproductive freedom a pillar of her candidacy, didn’t qualify for the debate.
Reproductive rights are under greater threat than they've been since before Roe v. Wade.— Emmy Bengtson (@EmmyA2) September 13, 2019
We've had a three-hour, 10-candidate #DemDebate for the presidency and not a single question *or mention* about that crisis.
But ok. We don't need a candidate who runs on women's rights.
Not a single word about abortion. #DemDebate— Liz Plank (@feministabulous) September 13, 2019
Media Matters drew attention to the noticeable absence of discussion about abortion rights in a piece that listed nine things that were discussed more than reproductive freedom. The list included veganism, record players, penguins, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hair.
Glorious as Trudeau’s coif may be, advocates for choice were deeply disappointed. #AskAboutAbortion trended on Twitter this morning. (#AskAboutAbortion was inspired by there being no questions about abortion in the first five Democratic presidential debates in 2016.)
Not only do I want the next #DemDebate moderators to #AskAboutAbortion, but I’d love to hear a candidate declare “Everyone loves someone who had an abortion.”— Renee Bracey Sherman (@RBraceySherman) September 13, 2019
Change the conversation. Refuse the stigma. Use your platform to voice compassion for those of us who’ve had abortions.
Abortion wasn’t the only issue of particular importance to women that was left off the table at the debate. There was no mention of elder care, family leave, sexual assault, or the gender pay gap.
Claire Goforth is a Jacksonville, Florida-based journalist covering politics, culture, justice, and unicorns. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from regional alt-weeklies to Al Jazeera.