Fact-Checking the 2020 Democrats on Abortion
During the fourth Democratic debate last week, every Democrat questioned on the issue said he or she supports abortion as a woman's fundamental right. They also suggested that most Americans support abortion and that restrictions on abortion are an attack on the poor.
Two of the Democrats repeated the claim that at least 75 percent of Americans support Roe v. Wade (1973), the Supreme Court decision that codified abortion as a woman's right. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) even claimed that pro-life legislators used restrictions on abortion to "criminalize poverty."
In these and other claims, the candidates misrepresented the views of the American people and the aims of pro-life legislators. Codifying current Supreme Court precedent on abortion is not nearly as popular as they suggested it is.
Many Democrats insisted that Americans support abortion as a woman's right.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said what she would tell President Donald Trump if he was on the stage. "You, Donald Trump, are not on the side of women. You are not on the side of people of this country, when over 75 percent of people want to keep Roe v. Wade on the book," she declared.
When former Vice President Joe Biden called for codifying Roe v. Wade into law, echoing each of the other candidates, he added, "the public is already there."
"We now have support across this country. Three out of four Americans believe in the rule of Roe v. Wade," Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) insisted.
These Democrats seem to have been referring to an NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist Poll released in June. In that poll, the vast majority of Americans (77 percent) expressed qualified support for Roe v. Wade. Yet their answers were more complicated than mere support for the decision.
The survey asked, "In 1973, the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court established the constitutional right for women to legally obtain an abortion. Over time, other laws have expanded or restricted this ruling. Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court today, should decide to: Overturn Roe v. Wade; Keep Roe v. Wade but add more restrictions; Keep Roe v. Wade but reduce some of the restrictions; Expand Roe v. Wade establishing the right to abortion under any circumstance; or Keep Roe v. Wade the way it is.
While only 13 percent of Americans in the poll said Roe should be overturned, 26 percent said they want more restrictions on abortion. About one-fifth (21 percent) said they want to see Roe expanded to make abortion legal in any circumstances, while 14 percent said they would keep Roe and reduce restrictions on abortion. Only 16 percent said they would keep Roe the way it is, while 11 percent said they were unsure.
Yet another Marist poll, this time conducted in junction with the Knights of Columbus (KoC), found that most Americans would effectively support overturning Roe and allowing states to make their own laws on abortion. The poll asked respondents, "Which comes closest to your view of what the Supreme Court should do when it reconsiders Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling making abortion illegal in the United States?"
Most Americans either wanted the Court to make abortion illegal (16 percent) or to "allow states to make certain restrictions" (49 percent). Both of these outcomes would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade. Less than a third of Americans (30 percent) said abortion should be "legal without restriction." Another 6 percent admitted they were unsure.
Democrats point to the one poll and say, "77 percent of Americans support Roe!" while conservatives can point to the second poll and say, "65 percent of Americans support overturning Roe so states can make their own laws on abortion."
Although more Americans identify as "pro-choice" than as "pro-life," more than three-quarters (76 percent) say abortion should only be legal within the first three months of pregnancy; or in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother; or only to save the mother's life; or never a all. Even 60 percent of "pro-choice" Americans agree with these restrictions, as do 61 percent of Democrats, according to another Marist poll. Only 12 percent support the idea that abortion should be legal at any time during pregnancy.
Supreme Court precedent is far more radical than most Americans' positions on abortion.
Roe v. Wade struck down state laws on abortion, only allowing states to protect the life of an unborn baby after "viability," defined at 28 weeks gestation. Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) revised that standard, allowing states to protect life at the point of viability. However, the Supreme Court decision Doe v. Bolton (1973) seems to have made it legal for a woman to get an abortion after the point of viability, so long as a doctor says the pregnancy is dangerous for the mother's health, broadly defined to include "physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age."
For these reasons, when Democrats pass laws to "codify Roe v. Wade," they include provisions similar to this broader view of Doe v. Bolton. For instance, New York's radical abortion bill legalized abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy — even after 24 weeks, so long as "the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or health."
According to a KoC/Marist poll conducted shortly after the bill was signed, New York State residents oppose allowing abortion during all 9 months of pregnancy. Most New York residents (79 percent) support some restrictions on abortion: 13 percent say it should be limited to the first six months of pregnancy; 26 percent say it should only be allowed during the first three months; 22 percent would restrict it to cases of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother; 9 percent would allow it only to save the life of the mother; and 9 percent would never permit abortion in any circumstances.
If New York's law represents "codifying Roe v. Wade," most Americans disapprove.
Yet the worst part of Democrats' rhetoric on abortion involved the Hyde Amendment. The Hyde Amendment prevents taxpayer dollars from funding abortion. Since many Americans think life begins at conception, they consider abortion a fundamental evil, tantamount to murder.
Yet Democrats suggested that restrictions on abortion — and especially the Hyde Amendment — are attacks on the poor.
Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary under Obama, supported striking down the Hyde Amendment "because you shouldn't only be able tot have reproductive freedom if you have money."
"I lived in an America where abortion was illegal, and rich women still got abortions," Warren said, suggesting that rich women simply went to counties where abortion was legal. "The people who are denied access to abortion are the poor, are the young, are 14-year-olds who are molested by a family member."
Booker went the furthest on the issue. He opposed the Hyde Amendment and characterized laws to restrict abortion as "another example of people trying to punish, trying to penalize, trying to criminalize poverty ... It is an assault on the most fundamental ideal that human beings should control their own bodies."
Yet neither the Hyde Amendment nor restrictions are abortion are intended to "criminalize poverty." Rather, the Hyde Amendment protects Americans from funding what they consider to be murder. Abortion restrictions protect the lives of unborn babies.
From the moment of conception, an unborn baby has unique human DNA. For this reason, 95 percent of biologists have agreed that human life begins at conception — and most Americans say biologists, not politicians, should determine when life begins.
Abortion is a thorny issue for Americans. Most of them support women's rights and autonomy, but they also want to protect unborn babies. Women should have the ability to decide when to become mothers — and they do have the freedom to refuse sex. This is one of the many reasons rape is considered an extremely heinous crime. Abortion should not be considered a secondary form of birth control.
While Warren may have been incorrect about Americans' support for Roe v. Wade, she did make one positive contribution to the abortion debate as a whole.
"We should not leave this to the Supreme Court, we should do this through democracy," Warren said, referring to passing a law through Congress and having it signed by the president. Abortion is one of the major areas of American law where the Supreme Court has effectively made law, usurping the authority of Congress and the president.
For this reason, Roe v. Wade should be overturned. If the states and the American people want to put a woman's right to an abortion into the Constitution, there is an amendment process for that. If the American people want laws like New York's radical abortion law, codifying Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, Congress has the power to do that. The Supreme Court shouldn't have usurped it in the first place.
Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.