In their most substantive debate statements to date on abortion, several of the leading Democratic presidential candidates reaffirmed on Friday night that if elected, they would put forward only Supreme Court nominees who supported Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision establishing a woman’s right to abortion.
Historically, many presidential candidates have shied away from an outright litmus test on abortion or any other issue, arguing that Supreme Court justices should not be selected based on their political positions but on their experience and jurisprudence. But that has changed this campaign cycle.
The Democratic candidates have also gone a step further and urged that the right to abortion be legislated, a call that several repeated on Friday during the discussion of an issue whose absence from previous debates has angered advocates.
“I’ve lived in an America in which abortion was illegal, and rich women still got abortions, and that’s what we have to remember about this,” Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, arguing that Roe v. Wade should be codified.
“Three out of every four people in America believe right now that the rule of Roe v. Wade should be the law,” Ms. Warren said. “That means we should be pushing for a congressional solution as well. It is time to have a national law to protect the right of a woman’s choice.”
Ms. Warren added: “States are heading toward trying to ban abortion outright, and the Supreme Court seems headed in exactly that direction as well. If we are going to protect the people of the United States of America and we are going to protect our rights to have dominion over our own bodies, then it’s going to mean we can’t simply rely on the courts.”
The exchange began with former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. also pledging that if the Supreme Court were to rule abortion unconstitutional, he would ask Congress to pass a bill codifying Roe v. Wade.
“It’s a woman’s right to do that. Period,” Mr. Biden said. “And if you call that a litmus test, it’s a litmus test.”
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said she would appoint only justices who respected precedent.
“And one of those key precedents is Roe v. Wade,” she said. “In addition, you have got to put it into law.”
Ms. Klobuchar warned that President Trump and some states had suggested criminalization of abortion. “When he was running for election — and this is a case I will make on the debate stage against him — he actually said that he wanted to put women in jail. He then dialed it back and said, ‘No, I want to put doctors in jail,’” she said. “Is it a big surprise, then, we are seeing states like Alabama start enacting laws that would criminalize doctors who perform abortions? It’s not.”
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont also demanded codification of Roe v. Wade. “Look, you asked a simple question,” Mr. Sanders said. “Is there a litmus test for those of us up here? For me, there is. I will never nominate any person to the Supreme Court or the federal courts in general who is not 100 percent pro-Roe v. Wade. Number two, we have to codify Roe v. Wade into legislation.”
“We all have the litmus test. Everybody on this row feels exactly the same way about a woman’s right to choose,” the businessman Tom Steyer said.
“There’s something else going on. The Republicans are in control,” he added. “They’re stacking the court for a generation with young right-wing radicals. And we’ve watched it happen and the question is, what are we going to do about it?”