WASHINGTON — During their most recent nationally televised debate, Democratic presidential candidates were asked how they feel about Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ position as an anti-abortion Democrat.
The candidates who chimed in — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Cory Booker of New Jersey — didn’t directly answer whether there is "room in the Democratic Party for someone like (Edwards), someone who can win in a deep red state but who does not support abortion rights.”
Edwards, who has signed multiple restrictive anti-abortion laws, including a much-debated fetal heartbeat bill this year, is the only Democratic governor in the Deep South. He won reelection with 51% of the vote on Saturday and will begin a second four-year term in January.
The "heartbeat bill" would ban abortion in Louisiana as soon as a fetus heartbeat can be detected — effectively banning abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy — if a similar Mississippi law survives a court challenge and becomes law.
“When I ran for governor, I said I was pro-life and so that’s something that’s consistent,” Edwards said at the time of the bill's signing.
He has often referenced his decision to expand Medicaid shortly after taking office as another example of his pro-life views. Nearly half a million Louisiana residents have been added to the health care program’s rolls under the expansion.
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But the question over abortion rights and the Democratic Party has become an issue of debate within the party. This week, the Democratic Attorneys General Association announced that it would only endorse candidates who publicly vow to defend reproductive rights.
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“Protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” presidential candidate Warren said on the MSNBC-Washington Post debate stage in Atlanta on Thursday night, adding she believes “abortion rights are human rights” and “economic rights.”
After receiving backlash from parts of his political base for signing a six-week abortion ban into law, Gov. John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he …
She said government shouldn’t be involved in whether a woman is able to terminate a pregnancy, but she stopped short of directly taking aim at Edwards.
“I'm not here to try to drive anyone out of this party,” she said. “I'm not here to try to build fences.”
Sanders was also presented the question, but, like Warren, he didn’t directly answer to what he thinks about Edwards and other anti-abortion Democrats.
“If there's ever a time in American history where the men of this country must stand with the women, this is the moment,” Sanders said. “If you want to get the government off of the backs of the American people, then understand that it is women who control their own bodies, not politicians.”
Booker chimed in on the discussion but he didn’t directly address Edwards either. Instead he talked about Georgia, which has adopted heartbeat legislation of its own.
“The heartbeat bill here — opposed by over 70 percent of Georgians — is the result from voter suppression,” Booker said, arguing that voter suppression caused the Democratic candidate to lose the gubernatorial race in Georgia last year.
Edwards, a devout Catholic who was first elected in 2015, hasn’t publicly responded to being used as an example during the debate. He has campaigned on his anti-abortion views.
"The Governor is focused on Louisiana, not on national party politics," Edwards' spokeswoman Christina Stephens said. "He knows there are many who feel just as strongly as he does on abortion, and who disagree with his position, and he respects their opinions."
One of Edwards’ first campaign ads of the 2015 cycle featured his daughter Samantha and told the story of how he and wife at 20 weeks pregnant were urged by doctors to get an abortion because their daughter would be born with spina bifida. The Edwardses refused. Their daughter has grown up, gotten married and is now a school counselor.
"His pro-life stance is well known to the voters of Louisiana, people of both parties, who just re-elected him to another term," Stephens said. "He’s committed to working with anyone, regardless of party, to continue to build a better Louisiana that cares for the least among us and provides more opportunity for everyone."