Thursday night’s primetime GOP presidential debate gave the leading candidates an opportunity to start staking out their positions. And there’s one area where the contenders are clearly working hard to prove their right-wing bona fides: reproductive rights.
It’s no surprise that the GOP field is firmly anti-abortion. Nonetheless, the candidates on stage did their best to stake out particularly extreme stances when it comes to women’s access to reproductive health care. Here are the policy stances that Republicans doubled down on during the Fox News debate:
Women shouldn’t have access to abortion even if their life is in danger.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is considered to be one of the front-runners in the current GOP race, clarified that he does not support exceptions to abortion bans even in cases when women may die if they don’t end the pregnancy. When debate moderator Megyn Kelly asked Walker if he would “really let a mother die rather than have an abortion,” the candidate responded that the unborn child should be protected no matter what.
“I’ve got a position that’s consistent with many Americans out there in that I believe that that is an unborn child that’s in need of protection out there. And I’ve said many times that that unborn child can be protected and there are many alternatives that would protect the life of the mother,” Walker said.
The governor did not expand upon the “many alternatives” available to protect pregnant women whose lives are imperiled by a dangerous pregnancy. But it’s not true that advances in medical technology can prevent those women from dying. There are some pregnancy complications — including ectopic pregnancies, preeclampsia, and blood clots — that are life-threatening and cannot be corrected without terminating the pregnancy. Women in other counties where abortion has been totally criminalized do die because they are denied this medical care.
Rape victims should be forced to carry their pregnancies to term.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is working to prove his pro-life credentials by downplaying his previous support for an anti-abortion bill that included limited exceptions for women whose pregnancies were conceived as a result of rape or incest.
The current federal standard for abortion restrictions includes exceptions for rape, incest, and life endangerment. GOP candidates for president have historically supported similar exceptions, perhaps in light of the fact that Americans overwhelmingly favor legal abortion access in these cases. But, facing pressure from far-right abortion opponents, GOP lawmakers have recently struggled to figure out how hard-line of a stance they should take here.
So Rubio is now saying that he doesn’t think victims of sexual assault should have access to abortion. When moderator Megyn Kelly asked him about his position on rape and incest exceptions, he said that he has “never advocated” for that policy. “What I have advocated is that we pass law in this country that says all human life at every stage of its development is worthy of protection,” Rubio said. On Friday morning, the senator doubled down on this position during an appearance on CNN.
Fertilized eggs should have all the same legal rights as U.S. citizens.
Mike Huckabee went even further than the rest of the candidates by emphasizing personhood from the moment of conception. He called for overturning Roe v. Wade to allow the U.S. Constitution to recognize the legal rights of embryos.
“This notion that we just continue to ignore the personhood of the individual is a violation of that unborn child’s Fifth and 14th Amendment rights for due process and equal protection under the law,” said the former Arkansas governor. “It’s time that we recognize the Supreme Court is not the supreme being, and we change the policy to be pro-life and protect children instead of rip up their body parts and sell them like they’re parts to a Buick.”
In general, abortion opponents haven’t decided whether it’s better to continue gradually chipping away Roe v. Wade piece by piece, or whether it’s necessary to take a bold stance to ban abortion from a very early point in pregnancy. The personhood movement is situated at the extreme end of that spectrum — it’s so radical that even some Republican lawmakers have declined to support it, and it has failed to advance in deeply red states.
Planned Parenthood should be investigated and defunded.
Planned Parenthood has recently been a top talking point for GOP candidates, thanks to an ongoing controversy related to secretly recorded videos released by anti-abortion activists that allege the organization is profiting off of “aborted baby parts.” Earlier this week, Bush made headlines when he suggested that Planned Parenthood should be defunded because the country doesn’t need to spend “half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”
Thursday’s debate presented yet another opportunity for the presidential hopefuls to position themselves against one of the nation’s largest family planning providers. Scott Walker and Jeb Bush both touted their state’s records of stripping funding from Planned Parenthood, which has struggled to continue providing basic health services in the areas where lawmakers have gone after its state funds. Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, meanwhile, pledged to launch an investigation into Planned Parenthood on his first day in office if elected president.
The cuts that the GOP candidates are celebrating had a concrete impact on Planned Parenthood’s ability to serve low-income residents. In 2013, for instance, the group was forced to close four of its clinics in Wisconsin because it couldn’t afford to keep them open.