The group for state Democratic attorneys general issued a warning to potential candidates on Monday – back abortion rights, or we won’t back you.
The Democratic Attorneys General Association announced that it would only endorse candidates who support abortion access and publicly vow to defend reproductive rights, a requirement the group called “first-of-its-kind for any Democratic campaign committee.”
The move comes with 12 attorneys general seats at play in 2020, according to the group, and as state attorneys general have played a key role in litigating the recent fights over abortion rights at both the state and national levels.
Defending the recent crop of conservative state-level restrictions to the procedure has fallen largely to states attorneys general. Meanwhile, representatives from liberal states’ attorneys general’s offices have brought or supported several of the challenges to the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict access to the procedure.
“As the battle for reproductive rights unfolds at the ballot box, in statehouses, and courtrooms across this country, there is no group of elected officials better positioned to lead the fight for our rights than state Attorneys General,” said Ellen Rosenblum, the group’s co-chair and Oregon attorney general, in a statement. “That is why electing Democratic AGs who are committed to protecting reproductive freedom, especially for the most vulnerable communities, has never been more important.”
The requirement would apply to potential funding, digital resources and strategic partners from the group starting in the 2020 elections. While there is currently only one anti-abortion-rights attorney general in the group – Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood – he lost a bid for the governorship earlier this month and will be succeeded by Republican Lynn Fitch in January.
The group’s communications director, Lizzie Ulmer, said that the policy change had been in the works for some time, but had become a more serious focus since May, when Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the state’s six-week abortion ban.
“It ended up being that this was the right timing,” she told CNN. “The AGs really wanted this to happen, and they were really excited that this was something the committee would be able to do.”
Planned Parenthood acting President Alexis McGill Johnson praised the group’s new policy.
“Attorneys general are some of the most important people protecting our ability to access sexual and reproductive health care — including abortion,” she said in a statement. “Every party should support our right to access health care. This shouldn’t be a Democratic or a Republican value. This is fundamental.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue said that the move “could not come at a more important moment.”
“The Republican party is waging an all-out assault against women and pregnant people, and voters have to know someone has our backs in this crucial moment,” Hogue said in a statement. “Now, we know that Democratic Attorneys General do.”
The group’s announcement included a video featuring New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democratic attorney general who has successfully helped push back on national efforts to restrict abortion access.
Earlier this month, a federal judge in New York blocked the Department of Health and Human Services’ so-called conscience rule – which lets health care workers who cite moral or religious reasons opt out of providing certain medical procedures, such as abortion, sterilization and assisted suicide – in a challenge brought by New York and several other states. New York is also leading, along with Oregon, a lawsuit against another department rule prohibiting taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from discussing abortion with patients or referring patients to abortion providers.
“The fight to protect women’s reproductive rights is far from over,” James said in a statement. “Especially in this current political climate, where a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her own body is under relentless assault, we must persist and redouble our efforts. That’s why as Democratic Attorneys General, we are taking a clear stand on the issue ensuring that we elect Attorneys General to our team who share our pro-choice values.”
Both critics and supporters of the announcement highlighted the impacts of the policy going forward.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List, slammed the new policy, saying that it “underscores the extremism of the modern Democratic Party on abortion.”
“Democratic Party power brokers send a clear message that voters (with concerns about legal abortion) are unwelcome,” she said, adding that “in contrast to President Trump’s strong pro-life leadership, abortion extremism will be a serious political liability in 2020.”
Some Democratic presidential candidates cheered the move.
“Attorneys General stand on the front lines of the fight to protect access to abortion and reproductive rights—and I stand with @DemocraticAGs,” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted. “Thank you for making this commitment to defend our rights.”
California Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted, “The times we live in requires bold action. Attorneys General play a critical role in blocking abortion bans and I applaud @DemocraticAGs for taking a stand to ensure reproductive rights are protected.”