Planned Parenthood is set to host a forum on reproductive rights for the Democratic primary field this month, as the issue of abortion emerges as a central topic in the 2020 presidential race.
The forum, hosted by the organization’s political arm, is the first event in recent presidential campaigns singularly focused on women’s health. The candidates will be individually questioned for 15 minutes about their positions and records on issues like abortion rights, access to health care and contraception.
So far, 16 candidates have agreed to participate, and more are expected. The event will take place in Columbia, S.C., on June 22, the same weekend as the state Democratic Party convention, when nearly all the candidates will be in the city to woo activists and officials.
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Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who has recently moved left on the issue of abortion after facing sharp criticism from members of his own party, plans to attend, according to a Planned Parenthood spokesman. NowThis News, a liberal video news platform, will live-stream the event.
Organizers said the event aims not only to shape the views of the candidates but also to further energize Planned Parenthood’s own supporters.
“It’s crystal clear that access to reproductive health care — including safe, legal abortion — is a top issue heading into 2020,” said Kelley Robinson, the group’s executive director. “If the 13 million-plus Planned Parenthood supporters turn out to the polls and activate their networks, they can tip the 2020 election.”
Planned Parenthood, which provides reproductive health care to 2.4 million people nationwide, has been facing intensified attacks during the Trump administration. While polls have found that most Americans have a favorable view of the organization, Republican critics are pushing to cut its federal funding by millions of dollars and to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.
The forum comes toward the end of a busy legislative season in which Republican-controlled states have passed some of the strictest abortion laws in modern American history. Last month, Alabama passed a law that bans abortion at any stage of pregnancy, and in Louisiana, Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, signed a law banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
While those laws are expected to be challenged in court, the new restrictions, combined with a conservative majority on the Supreme Court, has turned support for abortion into a nonnegotiable position for Democratic candidates.
With all 23 Democratic presidential candidates supportive of abortion rights, the debate has centered on how aggressive party members should be in combating the state restrictions and what they would do if the Supreme Court were to overturn abortion rights nationwide.
As the candidates crisscrossed Iowa last weekend, nearly all pledged to fight for abortion rights, with several vowing to appoint only judges who would uphold the constitutional right to abortion.
“Make no mistake — abortion is health care, and health care is a right, not a privilege,” said Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.
Some of the remarks offered an implicit critique of Mr. Biden, who, after a career of trying to delicately navigate the issue, denounced a ban on all federal funding for abortions, known as the Hyde Amendment, that he had long supported.
[What is the Hyde Amendment? Here’s a look at what it does, and why the politics have shifted.]
“I don’t think there’s room in our party for a Democratic candidate who does not support women’s full reproductive freedom,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
Many Democrats see abortion rights as a winning issue for the party, one that will energize the younger and female voters whose record turnout in the 2018 midterm elections helped the party win back control of the House of Representatives. They point to polling that shows broad majorities disapprove of abortion bans that do not include an exception for rape or incest, like the Alabama law.
Over all, 94 percent of white, college-educated, liberal Democrats say a woman should be able to obtain a legal abortion if she wants one for any reason, according to a New York Times analysis of the General Social Survey, a highly regarded survey that has asked Americans about their views for decades. But the rest of the party is split: Just 55 percent of all other Democratic-leaning respondents had the same opinion, and black Democrats were divided 50-50.