In a nearly three-hour debate, the Democratic candidates clashed on health care policy differences, offered varying plans to combat the scourge of gun violence and even discussed whether Americans should switch to a vegan diet to help mitigate the effect of farming on climate change (short answer: no).
But questions on the gender pay gap and reproductive rights were entirely absent.
Candidates quickly took to Twitter after the debate to note the omission, including Senator Kamala Harris of California and former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas.
The #DemDebate was three hours long and not one question about abortion or reproductive rights.
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) September 13, 2019
None of the Democratic candidates spoke at length about the issues on their own.
Reproductive rights garnered attention during the first set of Democratic debates, held in June. It was a month after Georgia became the fourth state to pass a so-called fetal heartbeat bill, which outlaws abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when an ultrasound may be able to detect the pulsing of what will become the fetus’s heart. Multiple candidates pledged to fight the moves to limit access to abortion, and to defend the Supreme Court decision that protects it.
In the second set of debates, the candidates wrestled with the wage gap, discussing Ms. Harris’s equal pay plan. The entrepreneur Andrew Yang steered his answer on universal basic income to address sexism and harassment in the workplace.
Indeed, protecting and expanding reproductive rights has been a key issue throughout the sprawling Democratic primary. In June, Planned Parenthood hosted a candidate forum dedicated largely to the topic of reproductive rights; 19 candidates attended, including nine of the 10 onstage Thursday night.
Toward the end of the debate Thursday, the three women on the stage — Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Ms. Harris — discussed motherhood and their careers. Ms. Klobuchar told a story about how she had been forced to leave a hospital as a new mother after 24 hours, and explained that she had fought for a law that would guarantee longer stays. Ms. Warren recalled how, years ago, she had lost her job as a special-education teacher upon becoming pregnant. And Ms. Harris discussed the influence of her mother and the barriers she had broken by winning public office as a black woman.
Otherwise, the Houston debate focused heavily on topics that other debates have covered extensively: health care, immigration, climate change and gun control.
Viewers like Christina Reynolds, a vice president at Emily’s List, a political action committee that donates to Democratic women who support abortion rights, echoed a common complaint on Twitter: “If we’re going to have the SAME health care debate for the third debate, could we at least talk about reproductive rights once?”