Why at least one presidential debate needs to cover abortion this year

Abortion is legal. But that simple fact can’t stand on its own and protect America’s 60 million women of reproductive age when all kinds of laws, regulations, and damning cultural stigma and propaganda are relentlessly waging war on it. Whether or not any woman thinks she’s actually going to end up having one, her ability to make that choice and access the service embodies a fundamental human rights issue for half our nation’s population. Abortion rights must be discussed at the presidential debates: they affect everyone, the economy, and women’s ability to control their futures.

Throughout the primary season, abortion was seldom mentioned in both parties’ debates for a benign and understandable, but ultimately deeply flawed reason. The dialogue around abortion is flatly simplified into whether or not politicians are “pro-life” (more like “pro-force women to give birth,” but whatever) or “pro-choice,” and so we can just leave it there. It was widely held that there was no debate over abortion to be had at the primary debates because Democratic candidates are typically pro-choice and Republican candidates just aren’t.

Even at the Democratic primary debates, where both candidates identified strongly as pro-choice, moderators could have asked about their stances and plans regarding the Hyde amendment, which denies poor women their access to abortion by prohibiting federal funds for the service, to appease the religious values of others.

Further, how would they address TRAP laws shutting down clinics by pinning them with expensive, medically unnecessary requirements? Mandatory waiting periods and emotionally manipulative, factually inaccurate anti-choice counseling sessions? Twenty-week bans that undermine women’s right to abortion until fetal viability? Domestic terrorism attacks persecuting clinics, doctors, and women? How would they protect abortion rights through their Supreme Court justice appointments? And what about minors’ ability to access abortion without parental consent?

It’s no longer the 1970s: the abortion debate is so much more complicated than whether or not the procedure is right or wrong, although, unfortunately, plenty of people are still having that conversation.

It’s about making abortion rights more than a theory for women in all states and of all income brackets. It’s about not allowing religion to obfuscate a dialogue about human rights and science, giving women the means to pursue their ambitions and shape their futures, and not reducing them to prisoners of their biology.

U.S. Supreme Court Issues Major Opinions On Abortion And Gun Rights
CREDIT: Pete Marovich/Getty Images

That being said, Monday’s presidential debate and the two debates to come in October aren’t the primary debates, and only one of the two candidates on stage supports a woman’s right to choose. Where Hillary Clinton is the most vocal opponent of the Hyde amendment in recent history and Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America’s pick for president, Republican nominee Donald Trump has toyed with the idea of punishing women for getting abortions (aka throwing it back to the early 1900s). Where Clinton is determined to appoint SCOTUS justices supportive of reproductive rights, Trump has been vocal about his plans to do the opposite.

Just because we know how different their stances on abortion are, that doesn’t mean we end the debate there. It’s important for voters — especially staunch, most likely white male Bernie-or-Bust’ers — who think there exist no differences between Trump and Clinton huge enough to keep them from voting for a third party to understand just how different women’s standards of living would be under Trump as opposed to Clinton.

The issue of abortion in America is not resolved. Roe v. Wade was the start, not the conclusion to the debate about this most fundamental women’s right. Assuming the fight is over, shrugging it off, and not holding our potential political leaders to answer for this critical issue would be a huge mistake and only further set back the poor and marginalized women who still don’t have access to abortion.