Skip to main content

The Stakes Have Never Been Higher.

In the face of existential emergencies to humanity, Common Dreams is facing other potentially fatal threats to our funding model. Please support our nonprofit journalism and help us reach our $75,000 Mid-Year Campaign goal.

'Normal' is killing us.

Donald Trump is out of the White House. COVID-19 is fading, at least in wealthier nations. The world, they say, is returning to “normal.” That’s the narrative that the corporate media is selling. But there’s a problem: “normal” is destroying our planet, threatening our democracies, concentrating massive wealth in a tiny elite, and leaving billions of people without access to life-saving vaccines amid a deadly pandemic. Here at Common Dreams, we refuse to accept any of this as “normal.” Common Dreams just launched our Mid-Year Campaign to make sure we have the funding we need to keep the progressive, independent journalism of Common Dreams alive. Whatever you can afford—no amount is too large or too small—please donate today to support our nonprofit, people-powered journalism and help us meet our goal.

Please select a donation method:

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

"Each candidate onstage is openly pro-choice. But that’s not a good reason to ignore abortion at the debates—and not just because the Supreme Court is dominated by anti-abortion conservatives." (Photo: Jordan Uhl/Flickr/cc)

The Democrats Finally Get Around to Talking About Abortion

"Abortion rights are in theory one of the Democratic Party's basic principles, a standard it will not compromise. Except that it does, with disastrous results."

Sarah Jones

 by New York Magazine

On Friday evening, when the Democratic Party’s primary candidates convened for another interminable showdown. Once moderators got the usual questions about socialism and Medicare for All out of the way they decided, bravely, to breach new ground. They asked former vice-president Joe Biden if he’d apply a basic litmus test to potential Supreme Court nominees, focused narrowly on their support for abortion rights. Biden agreed that he would, and almost seemed to take credit for legal abortion itself in a typically meandering answer. Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar were more succinct: Yes, abortion would be a litmus test for their nominees.

Superficially, it shouldn’t be a surprise that politicians who belong to a party with legal abortion rights in its platform would make the issue a non-negotiable standard for whomever they nominate to the Supreme Court. Each candidate onstage is openly pro-choice. But that’s not a good reason to ignore abortion at the debates — and not just because the Supreme Court is dominated by anti-abortion conservatives. Biden’s rambling was enlightening, even if by accident. For a party that claims to champion choice, Democrats have been flexible with their core principles when it suits them.

In his answer, Biden, who once supported the Hyde Amendment’s ban on the use of public funds for abortion, tried to explain what exactly he meant when he’d criticized “litmus tests” in the past. The charge that left-wing candidates are overly prone either to litmus or purity tests is common among moderates, including Biden. Implied by this accusation is the belief that activists or politicians who insist on fealty to policies like Medicare for All will cost the party elections. The American people have little patience for such divisiveness, or so the argument often goes.

But the litmus-test criticism has always been bizarre. Distilled, it’s an attack on conviction, which is a trait most politicians like to say they possess. The basic presence of a Democratic party platform suggests that it as an institution has agreed-upon litmus tests of its own. Abortion rights are in theory one of the party’s basic principles, a standard it will not compromise. Except that it does, with disastrous results. Consider Dan Lipinski and Henry Cuellar, two conservative Democrats who oppose abortion: The party didn’t just welcome them into the fold, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is defending them against challenges from pro-choice women to their left. Abortion matters, until suddenly it doesn’t. Women have a sacrosanct right to the control of their own bodies, until a conservative Democrat faces a primary challenge.

The GOP doesn’t suffer from such confused messaging, and its base responds passionately to the party’s clarity. Democrats have sacrificed a similar advantage in service of a dubious electoral theory, which is that voters in certain areas simply won’t stomach pro-choice candidates. This is not universally true even in red-state districts and it is certainly not true in a general election, given that most Americans still support legal abortion in most or all cases. Candidates ought to be pressed not just on the issue of abortion, but on its merits as a litmus test, just as moderators did tonight. Any Democrat who wants to be president should have an unequivocal and clear answer prepared.

© 2021 New York Magazine
Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones

Sarah Jones is a staff writer for The New Republic. Follow her on Twitter: @onesarahjones

Support progressive journalism.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Progressives Alarmed by Privatization Dub Infrastructure Deal a 'Disaster in the Making'

"Communities across the country have been ripped off by public-private schemes that enrich corporations and Wall Street investors and leave the rest of us to pick up the tab."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·

'We Must Not Stand Down': 270+ Arrested at Anti-Logging Protests in Canada

A battle over old-growth forests is raging in British Columbia.

Kenny Stancil, staff writer ·

US Lawmakers Demand EU 'Do the Right Thing or Get Out of the Way' on Covid-19 Vaccine Patent Waivers

"A global recovery requires a global response based on health needs—not Big Pharma," said Congressman Jesús "Chuy" García at a rally.

Brett Wilkins, staff writer ·

'Horrible and Unconscionable Betrayal': Biden DOJ Backs Trump Line 3 Approval

"You are siding with a handful of corrupt corporate elites over honoring treaty rights, climate, water, and the future of life on Earth."

Jessica Corbett, staff writer ·

'We Can't Wait': Thousands in DC Demand Bold Action on Climate, Immigration, and Jobs

"All of us have got to stand together and tell the billionaire class that our time is now," said Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Julia Conley, staff writer ·