Why didn’t Democrats talk about abortion during the debates?

By | August 4, 2019

Despite the heightened controversy over abortion, including debate over “heartbeat” bills, Planned Parenthood taxpayer subsidies, and a new Supreme Court justice, Democrats didn’t even utter the word abortion during the most recent debate nights. After a brief tussle over abortion on both nights of the first debate, there was no mention of abortion or reproductive rights on Tuesday night and only a couple mentions of the Hyde Amendment on Wednesday night.

Abortion’s absence from the debates is significant and so are the possible reasons why.

To be fair to the candidates, they have to respond to the questions asked of them. CNN hosted the latest round of debates and chose to focus on the biggest issues facing the nation: healthcare, immigration, racial issues, etc. According to Gallup, the percentage of the country who say abortion, moral decline, or the judiciary are the “most important problem facing the country today” is in the single digits. And perhaps the issue will work itself out, despite all the heated political rhetoric: The abortion rate is declining.

While Sen. Kamala Harris of California attacked former Vice President Joe Biden for flip-flopping on the Hyde Amendment, she didn’t mention the word “abortion,” despite having strong opinions on the topic. In May, Harris proposed a radical plan to limit state-level abortion restrictions, modeled after the Voting Rights Act. Vox could hardly hide its glee when they wrote: “Under Harris’s proposal, states whose abortion-related laws have recently been struck down by courts for violating Roe v. Wade would have to obtain federal approval from the Justice Department before they’re able to implement any new abortion laws.”

Harris is hardly an outlier on abortion. Virtually all Democratic candidates, and Democrats now holding office, support abortion rights. At an election forum Planned Parenthood hosted in June, around 20 Democratic candidates pledged full support for abortion, going so far as to expressing support for repealing the Hyde Amendment and ensuring Roe remains untouched. Since this week’s event was intended to be a debate, there wasn’t much reason to discuss an issue the candidates mostly agree on.

Besides, calling for unrestricted abortion rights will only hurt their chances in the general election. According to Gallup, only 25% of Americans think abortion should be “legal under any circumstances.”

It’s almost as if, somewhere, deep down, Democrats know the culture has shifted away from their progressive ideals and is a losing cause.

Nicole Russell (@russell_nm) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner‘s Beltway Confidential blog. She is a journalist who previously worked in Republican politics in Minnesota.