2020 Democrats vow to expand abortion access at Planned Parenthood event

2020 Democrats vow to expand abortion access at Planned Parenthood event
© Getty

Democratic presidential candidates were pressed on their support for abortion Saturday at a first-of-its-kind forum exclusively focused on reproductive rights.

The forum, hosted by Planned Parenthood in South Carolina, presented candidates with an opportunity to stand out on an issue that’s driven the Democratic primary so far.

But the forum also highlighted differences between candidates, with some, like Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenMomentum grows to change medical supply chain from China Why Gretchen Whitmer's stock is rising with Team Biden Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog MORE (D-Mass.), Bernie SandersBernie SandersCampaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis Cuomo's been good, but he's not going to be the Democratic nominee Does Joe Biden really want to be president? MORE (I-Vt.) and Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Biden fights for attention in coronavirus news cycle Lawmakers already planning more coronavirus stimulus after T package MORE (N.Y.) vowing to go further than others to protect and expand abortion access.


“I will guarantee that no matter where you live in this country, all 50 states, you will have access to legal safe abortion procedures,” Gillibrand, the first speaker, told a small audience of Planned Parenthood supporters.

Democrats and abortion rights activists want to make abortion access a key issue in the 2020 presidential election after several states this year passed bans and restrictions on the procedure.

The goal of anti-abortion groups and Republican legislators is to force the Supreme Court to overturn or weaken Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion.

Some candidates, including Gillibrand, Warren, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharWhy Gretchen Whitmer's stock is rising with Team Biden Biden says his administration could help grow 'bench' for Democrats Democrats fear coronavirus impact on November turnout MORE (Minn.), New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioUS attorney opposes release of inmates in DC Britain releases 4,000 inmates to curb spread of coronavirus  NYC landlord tells tenants in 18 buildings to skip April rent MORE vowed to codify that ruling into federal law to protect abortion access.

“I say it is time to go on offense with Roe vs. Wade,” Warren said.

“It's not enough to say we're going to rely on the court. We need to pass a federal law to make Roe vs. Wade the law.”

Candidates were given 15 minutes to answer questions from moderators and the audience, who were employees and supporters of Planned Parenthood.

The questions were easy, and the invite-only audience was friendly, giving Democrats a safe space to talk about a divisive issue.

But former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCampaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis Biden to host 'virtual fireside chat' with donors Esper faces tough questions on dismissal of aircraft carrier's commander MORE struggled and stumbled over his words and seemed to purposely avoid saying “abortion.”

Biden, a devout Catholic, personally opposes abortion and faced backlash this month saying he supported the Hyde amendment, a longstanding ban on federal funding of abortions. 

He reversed his position after facing blowback from groups such as Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Biden struggled to explain his change of heart Saturday, saying it did not fit in with his health care plan, which he has not released yet.

Asked by moderators about his “mixed record” on abortion, Biden disagreed.

“I’m not sure about the mixed record part. I’ve had 100 percent voting record” before his mic stopped working.

He and most of the other candidates explicitly promised to “eliminate” all changes President TrumpDonald John TrumpCampaigns face attack ad dilemma amid coronavirus crisis Outgoing inspector general says Trump fired him for carrying out his 'legal obligations' Trump hits Illinois governor after criticism: 'I hear him complaining all the time' MORE made to the Title X Family Planning program, to make the program “rationale and reasonable.”

The changes, which a federal judge ruled Friday could go into effect, bans Title X providers from referring women from abortions and would cut funds to Planned Parenthood.

He said he would also roll back the Mexico City Policy, a ban signed by Trump on federal aid to organizations that promote or provide abortions.

Other Democrats on the stage made it clear there’s no room in the party for candidates who don’t support abortion rights.

“I think right now, given the attacks that we're seeing in recent years, on Planned Parenthood in particular, and on abortion rights in general, I think what we can do and must do is find candidates in every state in this country and every congressional district in this country who do support absolutely a woman's right to control her own body,” said Sanders, who said he would “substantially” increase funding for Planned Parenthood.

De Blasio, taking a veiled shot at Biden, said: Can we just be clear that if you're a Democrat, you're against the Hyde Amendment? Period. Period. No choice.”