2020 race sees shifting dynamics as Democrats seize on restrictive anti-abortion bills

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks during a protest against abortion bans, May 21, 2019, outside the Supreme Court in Washington.PlayJacquelyn Martin/AP
WATCH Pete Buttigieg attends abortion rights protest at US Supreme Court

President Donald Trump has evoked disturbing images of Democrats backing policies that he says allow babies to be ripped from "their mother's womb" toward the end of pregnancy as a way of painting his opponents on the left as extremists on abortion rights.

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But the parade of 2020 Democrats, primarily led by the female candidates, is reclaiming the reins of this politically sensitive issue with proactive proposals following a spate of restrictive anti-abortion bills sweeping across conservative states.

"Democrats are now the party of ... late-term abortion," Trump said this week in Pennsylvania in what has become a familiar refrain for the president.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump walks by his supporters as he leaves his Make America Great Again rally at Williamsport Regional Airport, May 20, 2019, in Montoursville, Penn. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump walks by his supporters as he leaves his Make America Great Again rally at Williamsport Regional Airport, May 20, 2019, in Montoursville, Penn.

One day after his Pennsylvania rally, a number of Democrats shared a podium and a bullhorn on the steps of the Supreme Court to condemn Trump and what they see as a new and ongoing assault by Republican-led state legislatures aiming to curtail a woman's constitutional right to access abortion care.

"This is the beginning of President Trump's war on women," New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand told demonstrators at the protest. "If he wants this war, he will have this war, and he will lose."

Under his administration, Trump seeks to draw a hard line on the polarizing issue, reenergize his coalition against abortion, and drive a wedge through the Democratic field. The Trump campaign said it is poised to push Democrats into a corner on an area of support for abortion rights and highlight the issue as "extreme."

Trump's decision to insert "late-term abortion," a non-medical term largely used by anti-abortion groups into his stump speeches on the campaign trail, comes after Democratic-led legislatures in New York and Virginia approved laws that expanded women's access to abortion later in pregnancy.

But in recent weeks, anti-abortion measures in Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio are splintering the Republican Party -- with Trump distancing himself from the most restrictive abortion bans that appear to be too extreme.

A new Quinnipiac poll found that 60% of voters said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, with 28% saying abortion should be legal in all cases, matching the highest level of support since the question was first asked in 2004.

Only 13% of voters believe abortion should be illegal in the case of rape or incest.

PHOTO: Abortion rights supporters march through the streets of Birmingham, Ala., during the March For Reproductive Freedom, May 19, 2019. Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images
Abortion rights supporters march through the streets of Birmingham, Ala., during the March For Reproductive Freedom, May 19, 2019.

"We have the American people on our side," Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood, told ABC News on Tuesday. "Seventy-three percent of Americans support Roe vs. Wade as the law of the land, and none of us want our children to live in a world where they have fewer rights than we do. So if he wants to make this a 2020 issue, we will win."

For decades, Democrats have coalesced around their support for the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. Now, with a renewed sense of urgency to safeguard Roe v. Wade in this pitched battle, the 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are charging ahead with abortion policies and restoring mainstream values in the conversation.

Gillibrand, who has made abortion rights a cornerstone of her campaign platform and was the first Democrat to unveil a reproductive rights agenda, released policy details last week.

Beyond protecting Roe v. Wade by pledging to only nominate judges -- including Supreme Court justices -- who will uphold the decision as settled legal precedent and codifying it into law, Gillibrand said she would abolish the Hyde Amendment and guarantee access to reproductive health care, including abortion ,  across the country.

The next day, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, known for outpacing the primary field with a volume of policy ideas, outlined a plan to not only block the erosion of access in the legislative and judicial spheres, but also to expand access under federal law.

Warren committed to enshrining Roe v. Wade as law and repealing the Hyde Amendment but also urged for the passage of the Women's Health Protection Act, which was introduced in Congress, and the EACH woman Act, to prevent private insurance companies from refusing to cover abortion care.

Two other White House hopefuls, former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, introduced their own proposals to defend reproductive rights this week, showcasing similar priorities -- Roe v. Wade and the Hyde amendment -- and offering new approaches.

"For so long, women have been leading this fight, shouldering the burden of making sure that their reproductive rights are protected," O'Rourke said at a CNN Town Hall Tuesday in Iowa, during which he announced a three-pronged plan to protect and expand abortion rights for women. "It's time that all of us join them in this fight. As president, I will make sure that every nominee to every federal bench, including the Supreme Court, understands and believes that the 1973 decision Roe vs. Wade is the settled law of the land."

PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto ORourke addresses a gathering at a campus library during a campaign stop at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H., May 10, 2019. Charles Krupa/AP
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses a gathering at a campus library during a campaign stop at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H., May 10, 2019.

On Wednesday, Booker announced a series of executive actions he vows to take on day one if elected president, including creating a White House Office of Reproductive Freedom to oversee and coordinate his administration's efforts.

"A coordinated attack requires a coordinated response," Booker said in a statement announcing his proposal. "That's why on day one of my presidency, I will immediately and decisively take executive action to respond to these relentless efforts to erode Americans' rights to control their own bodies. I will also pursue a legislative response, including legislation to codify Roe v. Wade's protections into federal law."

California Sen. Kamala Harris joined other 2020 Democrats, pitching an abortion policy proposal at an MSNBC town hall at Wofford College in South Carolina, the final primary state before Super Tuesday her strategists are betting on to secure a potential path to victory.

"I'm going to tell you, on this issue, I'm kinda done," she said of the anti-abortion laws currently sweeping parts of the country before detailing her fifth and most recent policy proposal. "When elected, I'm going to put in place and require that states that have a history of passing legislation that is designed to prevent or limit a woman's access to reproductive health care that those laws have to come to for my department of justice for a review and approval until we determine that they are constitutional, they will not take effect."

Although they have yet to release detailed plans of their own, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, three candidates who leverage their roots in the Midwest to stake out more moderate positions in the primary, showed an eagerness at the Tuesday Supreme Court rally alongside Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America, to speak out against the new abortion laws -- signaling a broader consensus among the leaders of the party on abortion rights.

"You know where I come from, there are a lot of Democrats who don't agree with me on the issue of choice, and they have contributed to the party, and again, many people, even who have regarded themselves as reasonable -- reasonable -- pro-life voters are still pretty shocked by the kinds of things happening in a place like Alabama," Buttigieg told ABC News on the sidelines of the rally.

PHOTO: Amy Klobuchar speaks with ABC News Mary Alice Parks in Washington, DC. ABC News
Amy Klobuchar speaks with ABC News' Mary Alice Parks in Washington, DC.

"This isn't just some minor little fight," Klobuchar said during an interview. "This law that these guys have passed would put doctors in prison. This law that they've passed would literally make it so that if a college student was raped, she would have no choice in deciding what to do if she got pregnant. … We have to make that very clear to the American people, they're with us on this, and then push back against these laws in other states. And of course, push back in court."

While a number of red states impose restrictions on abortion procedures, criticized as "regressive," some states with Democratic majorities are moving forward with legislation that would preserve a woman's choice, including Nevada, Vermont and Illinois.

On Tuesday, lawmakers in Nevada, a state where Democrats control the majority-female assembly, passed the "Trust Nevada Women Act," a wide-ranging bill that rolls back restrictions on abortion, including decriminalizing abortion-related activities and repealing a requirement for physicians to tell women about the "physical and emotional implications" of having the procedure, according to NPR.

ABC News' John Verhovek, Cheyenne Haslett, Alexandra Svokos and Zohreen Shah contributed to this report.