The second field of 10 Democrats vying for their party’s presidential nomination debated Thursday night in Miami, but one question stumped two candidates: what to do in a possible post-Roe v. Wade world?
Alluding to restrictive abortion bans passed in states such as Georgia and Alabama this year, MSNBC moderator Rachel Maddow asked Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders: “What is your plan if Roe is struck down in the court while you’re president?”
“Well, my plan is somebody who believes, for a start, that a woman’s right to control her own body is a constitutional right [and] that government and politicians should not infringe on that right,” Mr. Sanders replied to applause, adding that he would only nominate justices who would uphold Roe v. Wade.
But Ms. Maddow responded that he’d not answered her question.
“I’m going to give you 10 additional seconds because … what if the court has already overturned Roe and Roe is gone?” she asked.
Mr. Sanders answered by stating his health care plan — Medicare for All — would pay for women’s abortions, seemingly eluding the question again.
Six states — from Missouri to Kentucky — passed so-called fetal heartbeat bills, effectively banning the procedure after eight weeks of a pregnancy from fertilization. Some exceptions are made for rape and incest. Other states, such as North Dakota, passed laws banning surgical abortions after the first trimester.
Alabama’s governor enacted the furthest-reaching legislation, punishing anyone performing an abortion with up to 99 years in prison. A federal circuit court blocked that law from taking place earlier this month.
A series of states have also passed so-called “trigger laws” that would prohibit the procedure in their state should Roe be overturned at the federal level.
At Thursday night’s debate, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand jumped into the fray after Mr. Sanders, saying she wanted to talk “directly to America’s women and to men who love them” about how reproductive rights are “under assault” from President Trump and the Republican Party.
“I think we have to stop playing defense and start playing offense,” Ms. Gillibrand said, calling the Hyde Amendment — a federal measure banning funds from being spent directly on abortion care — a product of closed-door deal-making.
But Ms. Gillibrand’s response also did not address any contingency plan for a post-Roe America, leaving the question unanswered.
Moderator Chuck Todd changed subjects, asking a question about climate change.
Court observers disagree on whether the court’s conservative majority will stay tight-knit on the question or break-apart as it did in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey, when a plurality of the court upheld Roe v. Wade but allowed for some restrictions to be placed on abortion access.
Still, a showdown over abortion appears imminent, as President Trump’s two nominees to the bench bolster the conservative majority and put the national rights guaranteed by Roe v. Wade under threat.
Abortion rights proponents have said to understand a post-Roe America, look to Texas, where clinics are very sparse. According to a 2015 report from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, 1.7% of women — or roughly 100,000 women — of reproductive maturity in Texas have attempted to self-induce abortions.
On Friday morning, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review a lower court’s blocking of a law passed in Alabama in 2015 prohibiting dismemberment abortions in the second trimester.
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