How Democrats Can Stop Playing Defense on Abortion

By Dean Obeidallah
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast

The Democrats must defeat the GOP’s latest effort to impose the Bible as the law of America (which I have long referred to as “Christian Sharia law”) as it relates to women’s reproductive freedom.  And the best way to do that is by championing a constitutional amendment—on both the national and state levels—to protect a woman’s right to control her own body.

GOP activists have long openly shared their dream to overturn Roe v. Wade and to enact laws that will unduly restrict abortion in America. And given the recent changes to the Supreme Court’s composition thanks to Donald Trump, they have been emboldened to new heights.

That’s why we are seeing the recent wave of GOP state laws that restrict women’s reproductive liberty, such as  ones in Georgia, Mississippi, and Ohio that ban abortion at six weeks into pregnancy–often before a woman is even aware she’s pregnant. And of course the headline-grabbing, extreme Alabama law that bans abortion even in case of rape or incest, requiring a woman who is the victim of rape to carry the rapist’s child to term.

Alabama Abortion Tragedy: the Cheerleader, the Coach, and a Coat Hanger

Now if you think the Alabama law is an outlier, you’ve not been paying attention. This is where the GOP has been heading. This position broke through on the national level during the 2016 campaign in the very first GOP presidential debate held in August 2015. There, Marco Rubio announced he didn’t support what have been called the “three exceptions” to abortion: rape, incest, and life of the mother. Rather, he only favored allowing abortion if life of the mother was at risk. At the time, fellow GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker shared the exact same view, and not only did neither face a backlash from the GOP base, the 2016 GOP platform  did not include exceptions for rape or incest.

So, stunning as this sounds in 2019, the last, best hope to stop the GOP from achieving its goal banning abortion in state after state is to pass a constitutional amendment to enshrine the right of a woman to control her own body.

Now, first the good news. Many of the leading 2020 Democratic candidates already have declared that in their view, women have a constitutional right to an abortion. Elizabeth Warren couldn’t have been more clear on that point with her recent tweet, “Access to safe, legal abortion is a constitutional RIGHT. Full stop."

Bernie Sanders echoed that sentiment with his tweet, “Abortion is a constitutional right,” as did Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who wrote, “I believe access to abortion is a constitutionally protected right.” And Cory Booker called the Alabama law “a blatant assault on constitutional and human rights.”

The prescription these Democrats have espoused to protect a woman’s right to control her own body range from codifying Roe v. Wade into federal law to, in Booker’s case, calling for the creation of a White House Office of Reproductive Freedom.  

But it’s time they take it one step further and champion an actual amendment to the Constitution to make it clear that just as people have a right to bear arms, women have the constitutionally guaranteed right to control their own bodies.

Yes, I get that enacting a constitutional amendment on any issue, let alone a divisive one like abortion, is currently impossible. We simply can’t get the necessary two-thirds of Congress to first approve such an amendment, and then three-quarters of the state legislatures to sign on. Nor are the prospects of a constitutional convention better.  But if the leading 2020 Democrats make this a key issue, it could begin to lay the groundwork to build public support for such an amendment in years to come--the same way the GOP has built support over decades to ban abortion in its own ranks that is now manifesting as laws.

But in the meantime, what can be done—and possibly in time for the 2020 election--is putting into action the process to amend state constitutions to recognize a constitutional right to reproductive freedom. In fact, Vermont is currently considering just such an amendment, which would make the Green Mountain state the first to enshrine abortion access in its constitution by ensuring that “every Vermonter is afforded personal reproductive liberty.”

Other states should follow Vermont’s lead. This can be accomplished by a ballot initiative in key swing states that provide for such measures including Michigan, Florida, and Wisconsin.  With recent polls showing that a solid majority of Americans oppose the GOP’s extreme laws to control women’s bodies, this could boost turnout for the Democratic candidates in those states.

We saw a similar approach in 2004 when the GOP championed its despicable ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriages in 11 states. The result was that there was a spike in GOP turnout in all 11 states in 2004 when compared to the 2000 election. (Although the overall impact though on the 2004 presidential race is still debatable.)  

But this fight goes far beyond potentially increasing turnout in key 2020 states. It’s about ensuring that women have absolute control to their own bodies. The women of our nation should never have to fear that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court or GOP-controlled state legislatures will one day restrict freedom to control their own uterus. And the only way to truly accomplish this is by adding a 28th Amendment to our Constitution that guarantees women reproductive liberty.

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