Democratic candidates tout abortion credentials in first debate

shutterstock 1358765609 Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro speaks during the National Action Network Convention on April 3, 2019. | JStone/Shutterstock

Taxpayer funding for abortions is a matter of "justice" for men and women Democratic presidential candidate Julian Castro said during the first Democratic primary debate Wednesday. 

Castro's comments were echoed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who said that she does not support any restrictions on abortion, and wants to see the Roe v. Wade decision codified into federal law. 

After acknowledging that every Democratic candidate on the debate stage June 26 was in favor of abortion rights, debate moderator Lester Holt asked Castro if, were he elected, abortion would be covered under a government-funded healthcare plan. 

"Yes, it would," said the former Department of Housing and Urban Development secretary. 

Ashley McGuire, a senior fellow for The Catholic Association, an organization that promotes religious liberty, life, and the Church in the public square, was critical of Castro's enthusiasm for taxpayer-funded abortion, and said it was a sign the party has been overrun by "abortion extremism."

"By equating 'reproductive justice' with taxpayer funding of abortion, he reveals the party's fundamental schism with Americans writ large on the issue," said McGuire. 

"Americans overwhelmingly oppose the use of tax dollars to pay for abortions, and yet Democrats are actively and aggressively working to undo legal barriers like the Hyde Amendment."

McGuire believes that this election will result in "a competition between the candidates as to who can be most extreme on abortion" and that "Castro was just the first one out of the gate."

Castro has made his Catholic identity a hallmark of his campaign, initially announcing his presidential ambitions in front of an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe on December 12, her feast day. 

"I don't believe only in reproductive freedom, I believe in reproductive justice," Castro said Wednesday night. He further elaborated that "just because a woman -- or let's also not forget someone in the trans community, a trans female, is poor, doesn't mean they shouldn't have the right to exercise that right to choose. And so I absolutely would cover the right to have an abortion." 

The comment caused some confusion among LGBT activists. A "trans female" is a man who identifies and presents himself as a woman, but cannot get pregnant as they do not possess a uterus. Castro later clarified on Twitter that he intended to refer to "trans males," or women who identify and present themselves as men, who can and do bear children. 

"Last night I misspoke - it's trans men, trans masculine, and non-binary folks who need full access to abortion and repro healthcare," he said.

Castro, who pointed out the Catholic church where he was baptized during the announcment of his presidential campaign, pledged that if he were elected, he would appoint federal judges who will "understand the precedent of Roe v. Wade and will respect it."  

After this question, Holt then asked Warren if she would put any limits on abortion. Warren said she would not. 

"I would make certain that every woman has access to the full range of reproductive health care services, and that includes birth control, it includes abortion, it includes everything for a woman," she said. 

Warren accused states of working to "undermine Roe" by passing restrictions on abortion, and that "it's not enough to expect the courts to protect us." 

"We now have an America where most people support Roe v. Wade," said Warren. "We need to make that a federal law." 

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Massachusetts, which Warren represents in the Senate, passed the "Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young Women Act" or "NASTY Women" Act in 2018. The NASTY Women Act codified Roe v. Wade into law and overturned a dormant Massachusetts law that criminalized abortion. 

Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, said after the deabte that "the abortion lobby has too much power within the Democratic Party and is successfully alienating Democratic voters with the pressure for all candidates to take an abortion extremisim approach." 

Day told CNA that she hopes the issue of pro-life support is raised on Thursday, the second night of Democratic primary debates. That debate will feature Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who has said that she does not believe there is a place for pro-life Democrats in the party. 

"Tonight, we would like to see one of the moderators ask, by show of hands, if anyone wants pro-life Democrats to vote for them," said Day.

Day believes that the focus on abortion will end up harming the Democratic Party in their effort to win the presidency in 2020.

"An abortion extremist cannot defeat President Trump, because the independents and Democrats who oppose abortion will simply stay home or vote third party," she said. 

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