New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang is attempting to set the record straight on his views on abortion by claiming he has long been a “champion” of reproductive rights.
Yang identified himself this way during a press event on Saturday, when asked to account for comments he’d made about abortion during his presidential campaign. (We’ll get to those.) “I’ve been a champion of women’s reproductive rights from Day One because it’s the right thing to do on every level,” Yang told reporters on Saturday, according to Politico.
“Championing” a cause means more than announcing one’s support for it; it means being moved to action. And as far as I can tell, in his public life at least, Yang has done little to bolster abortion rights. (Have we ever heard Yang say anything about abortion when he wasn’t running for elected office?) This might sound pedantic, but it’s an important distinction because this sort of hyperbolic rhetoric—used almost exclusively by politicians—can let people off the hook too easily.
And that’s clearly what Yang was hoping for in this instance: Last week, an interview clip of Yang on the 2020 campaign trail resurfaced, showing him making dubious comments about his support for abortion rights. Though Yang agreed that “women’s reproductive rights ... should be protected at the highest levels,” he veered into stigmatizing territory when asked about abortion later in pregnancy. Democrats, he said at the time, “have to get back to the point where no one is suggesting that we be celebrating an abortion at any point in the pregnancy.”
With these remarks, Yang echoed the “safe, legal, and rare” motto that became standard for the Democratic Party in the 90s. The party has long since disavowed the slogan, which is a way of apologizing for abortion instead of supporting people’s right to it. (Yang also invokes the logic of “safe, legal, and rare” on his 2020 presidential campaign website, where he discusses effective ways to “decrease the number of abortions.”)
“I cannot think of a less compelling way to advocate for something than saying that it should be rare,” Amelia Bonow, the cofounder of Shout Your Abortion, told Vice in 2019, when then presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard made similar comments. “And anyone who uses that phrase is operating from the assumption that abortion is a bad thing.”
On his mayoral campaign site, Yang speaks of his stance on abortion more sensitively, expressing his support for expanding funding for abortion care, repeal the Hyde Amendment, and increasing oversight of crisis pregnancy centers, which falsely advertise abortion services to trick pregnant people. But if Yang really wants to voters to believe that he’s a “champion” of reproductive rights, he first needs to understand the difference between fully supporting abortion and treating it as something unfortunate. Why shouldn’t someone’s ability to access essential reproductive care be something worth celebrating?