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Democratic Presidential Candidates Talk Abortion In South Carolina


Twenty Democratic presidential candidates were in Columbia, S.C., yesterday discussing an issue that is likely to be one of the most contentious in the upcoming elections, and that is abortion. While the Trump administration and Republican-run statehouses are trying to restrict abortion rights, advocates for reproductive rights are working to put the issue front and center in the Democratic presidential primary. NPR's Sarah McCammon has more from the Planned Parenthood forum.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: There was little disagreement among the Democratic hopefuls who gathered at the University of South Carolina.


KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: I will repeal the Hyde Amendment to make sure low-income women - to make sure low-income women have access to abortion services.

ELIZABETH WARREN: How about we repeal the Hyde Amendment?

KAMALA HARRIS: This is why I'm opposed to the Hyde Amendment.

MCCAMMON: Those were Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand referring to the long-standing ban on federal funding for abortion in most cases. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took the idea a step further.


BILL DE BLASIO: Can we just be clear that if you're a Democrat, you're against the Hyde Amendment, period? Period. No choice. You're against the Hyde Amendment, or, if you're not going to provide the economic support for real choice, if you think that choice is a matter of how much money you have in your pocket, then you're not really pro-choice.

MCCAMMON: Those remarks follow a recent reversal by former Vice President Joe Biden, who once supported Hyde but now opposes it. Biden suggested he'd initially backed the policy as a compromise in an effort to help push through legislation that would improve access to health care for low-income people.


JOE BIDEN: It became really clear to me that although the Hyde Amendment was designed to try to split the difference here to make sure women still had access, you can't have access if, in fact, everyone's covered by a federal policy.

MCCAMMON: During the daylong forum, Democrats took turns vying for support from abortion rights advocates. Several, including Gillibrand and Biden, called for codifying Roe v. Wade in federal law.

Meanwhile, many Republicans are painting Democrats as extreme on the issue. Here's President Trump at a campaign rally in Florida on Tuesday.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Virtually every top Democrat also now supports taxpayer-funded abortion right up to the moment of birth.

MCCAMMON: He's referring there to legislation like a new law in New York which allows abortion later in pregnancy to protect a woman's life or health.

However heated the political rhetoric may be, polls suggest a strong majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade but favor some restrictions on abortion.

Michael Wear is a former faith adviser to President Obama who opposes public funding for abortion. He says Democrats could alienate moderate voters who have mixed feelings about abortion and are uncomfortable with President Trump.

MICHAEL WEAR: The risk here is that instead of taking advantage of the vast center of American politics that has been left open by this president, that instead, we make the American people choose between two options that they view as morally repugnant.

MCCAMMON: At the Planned Parenthood forum, Lyric Swinton, a college student, said given Trump's policies on issues such as abortion and immigration, Democrats should not be compromising on anything right now.

LYRIC SWINTON: I think that maybe sometime in the past there might've been room for that, but not anymore. I think that because so many of our rights are under attack and so many of the ideals that our party holds near and dear are under attack, there's no room for any gray area.

MCCAMMON: Even so, Swinton says her biggest fear is that by shifting to the left on issues like abortion, Democrats might lose in 2020. But she says it's a gamble that's worth taking.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Columbia, S.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon worked for Iowa Public Radio as Morning Edition Host from January 2010 until December 2013.
Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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