Anti-abortion Democrats head into Super Tuesday without a candidate to support

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(CBS) — There’s one thing that every Democratic presidential candidate agrees on: abortion rights.

The current candidates are more supportive of abortion rights than candidates have been at any other moment in the Democratic party’s history. Every candidate has pledged to codify into law Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that nationally legalized abortion, and has promised to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal dollars from funding abortion. 

Some candidates have even said that supporting abortion rights is a critical part of being part of the party. At an event in New Hampshire last month, Bernie Sanders said, “being ‘pro-choice’ is an absolutely essential part of being a Democrat.”

But polling indicates abortion support isn’t as partisan as it appears. According to a 2019 Pew study, over a third of Republicans believe abortion should be “legal,” and nearly 20% of Democrats think the procedure should be “illegal.”

“We’re politically homeless,” said Kristen Day, the executive director of Democrats for Life of America, in an interview with CBS News. “When you look at the platform it doesn’t leave any room for people like me.”

For voters like Day, the Democratic candidates’ increased support for abortion access and rights has been problematic, and a departure from previous election cycles when “safe, legal and rare” was a common refrain in the party. Day said the current support was the “most extreme” she’s ever experienced.

But abortion rights advocates say such support is necessary at a time of unprecedented risks to abortion access. Since 2011, state lawmakers have enacted more than 400 regulations and restrictions on the procedure, many of which are aimed at providing a legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization. Last year, a handful of states, including two that have primary contests on Super Tuesday, passed laws that would ban abortion before most people know they’re pregnant. None of those laws are currently in effect.

“This is a different moment,” said Kelley Robinson, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, in an interview with CBS News. “People understand exactly what’s at stake. The stakes are higher than ever and that’s why [the candidates] need to be more bold than ever.”

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments for June Medical Services v Russo, its first abortion-related case since the appointments of conservative justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The law at the center of the case — a 2014 Louisiana law that requires doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital — was introduced by a Democratic state representative: Katrina Jackson.

If the Supreme Court allows the law to go into effect, Louisiana could become the first state without an abortion clinic since 1973, as first reported by CBS News.

As the Democratic primaries head to South Carolina and Super Tuesday, anti-abortion rights Democrats say there are few — if any — candidates they’re comfortable supporting. Of the states holding contests on Super Tuesday, three passed abortion bans in 2019: Alabama, Arkansas, and Tennessee. 

“I align with Democrats in every other possible way except for abortion,” said Terrisa Bukovinac, a Democratic voter from California, in an interview with CBS News.

Bukovinac, along with other Democratic voters who want to restrict abortion rights, said the only candidate they were comfortable with was Tulsi Gabbard because of her opposition to late termination of pregnancy. Others, like Day, said they wanted to hear more from Amy Klobuchar, who said earlier this month there was room in the party for Democrats who want to restrict abortion rights.

“I want to like [the candidates] but when it comes to abortion, it’s very hard for me to overlook that because it’s such an important issue,” said Kristin Vail, a Democrat from Colorado, said in an interview with CBS News. Vail said she’s already cast her vote for Gabbard.

For the general election in November, the decision will become harder. In 2016, Day said she sat out the election, unable to support Hillary Clinton because of her support for abortion access. This year, she hasn’t decided if she’ll be able to vote.

First published on February 28, 2020 / 5:18 PM

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