Discover more from Abortion, Every Day
What to Ask Republicans About Abortion
The questions every politician should be able to answer
Yesterday, The Washington Post editorial board published seven questions that every Republican presidential candidate should be asked about abortion. They ranged from questions about potential gestational limits and mifepristone, to queries on the Comstock Act and what exceptions a candidate believes are allowable. They’re all reasonable topics—but still, I was infuriated.
When did we forget that this is about real people’s lives?
Half of the population has been dealt a horrific blow, stripped of their human rights. As I wrote recently: To take away a person’s ability to control their own body and life is a profound existential harm. And so politicians have to answer more than simple policy questions. They need to be able to talk about the real life impact of abortion bans and why, on a fundamental human level, they believe it’s reasonable to force someone to be pregnant.
To sidestep that core issue is to accept the notion that this is all just politics—that the suffering and harm caused over the last year is ancillary to more important questions of legislative minutiae.
So yes, presidential candidates should be able to talk about mifepristone and federal bans—but they also need to be able to answer questions that get to the heart of what is happening in this country:
What would you say to someone who doesn’t want to be pregnant? If you were sitting across the table from a woman who doesn’t want to be pregnant, how would you explain to her that she has no choice—and that it’s morally correct that she has no choice?
What would you say to her if she started to cry? What about if she said she would rather die than remain pregnant?
This is not a hyperbolic, ‘activist’ question; multiple abortion bans have anticipated that women will become suicidal as a result of these laws. Doctors, in affidavits, have described women crying and threatening to kill themselves upon finding out they would be denied abortions. This is what happens in the real world to real people when you legally mandate pregnancy.
If you believe women and girls should be forced to carry pregnancies against their wills, surely you should be able to explain why. And I don’t just mean repeating a talking point about the ‘sanctity of life’—we need an answer about what these candidates would say to a woman, specifically, who is being forced to remain pregnant.
What would they say to a girl, a child, in the same situation? Candidates must be asked if they believe children should be forced to remain pregnant. How young is too young?
If they’re unprepared to answer that question, or say it depends on the situation, then the follow-up question is: Why, then, do you believe that politicians are the people best suited to make these determinations rather than doctors, parents, families, or women?
We cannot let Republicans message their way around the reality of what abortion bans actually do. They need to be asked specific questions about the consequences of their laws:
Under what circumstances should a woman be allowed an abortion if her fetus has an abnormality? What kind of abnormalities should be included in an abortion ban exception? What would you say to the women who have been forced to carry doomed pregnancies to term, only to watch their babies suffer and die right after birth?
What about the women who have ended up in the ICU with sepsis after being denied an abortion? How sick does a person need to be in order to legally qualify for an abortion? How much damage to their body is considered acceptable before they’ll be allowed to end their pregnancy?
If these politicians believe that they know better than women and doctors, they should be able to answer without hesitation. If they want to dictate a person’s most personal health decisions, they need to be prepared to answer difficult, detailed questions.
And when we do ask conservative candidates about policy, the questions must force them to move beyond talking points. The Washington Post, for example, wants Republican presidential candidates to be asked about ballot measures. That’s good—a huge part of the anti-abortion strategy is an attack on democracy. But solely asking whether they believe ballot measure standards should be raised skirts around the central issue: How do they defend banning abortion against the wishes of voters?
Nearly 80% of Americans believe abortion should be a decision between a woman and her doctor—only 18% think abortion should be regulated by law at all. Support for abortion rights is broadly increasing across the country, even in red states. How do these numbers square with their belief in democracy?
Again, if candidates believe that politicians are best-suited to make these decisions, there is no reason they shouldn’t be able to clearly articulate their vision for a post-Roe world:
If you believe there should be exceptions to abortion bans, what do you think about the fact that these so-called exemptions aren’t actually usable? How would you change that?
Do you believe that emergency contraception and hormonal birth control are abortifacients? How do you respond to the country’s biggest anti-abortion groups whose stance is that hormonal birth control should be illegal?
Why do you think a woman might seek out an abortion later in pregnancy? Do you know how many clinics in the country perform abortions in the third trimester? Can you tell us how much money it costs?
A pregnant woman in Alabama, accused of using marijuana, was jailed in order to “protect” her fetus. An Indiana woman was charged with murder after she attempted suicide and her pregnancy ended. What do you think about these cases?
I could go on forever. There are an infinite number of questions, circumstances, and nuances that come along with banning abortion. Are Republicans prepared to answer all of them? If not—why not? Could it be because pregnancy is too complicated to legislate?
The suffering and hurt that abortion bans have caused over the last year is immeasurable. That’s why Republicans are so desperate for questions that focus on dry policy details: It’s much easier to debate 12 weeks versus 15 weeks than talk about the real-life horrors of forced pregnancy.
If mainstream media wants to do their job correctly and morally, they’ll ask the questions that matter most—the questions that remember our humanity.
To support Abortion, Every Day and columns like this one, consider signing up for a paid subscription: