NEW YORK — Leading mayoral candidate Andrew Yang responded to mounting criticism Saturday over remarks he made during his presidential campaign last year about abortion, when he said he fully supports women’s reproductive rights but cautioned fellow Democrats against “celebrating an abortion.”
“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 said Saturday when asked to respond to critics during a campaign event in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
Politicians and opposing camps piled on Yang Friday night and Saturday morning over his answer to a question during an event in February 2020 when he joined fellow Democratic presidential candidates at a conference co-hosted by the Center for Reproductive Rights. During the 26-minute interview, Yang said “women’s reproductive rights are sacrosanct and should be protected at the highest levels.”
But when asked how he would win support for that stance from Americans uncomfortable with late-term abortions, Yang said Democrats “have to get back to the point where no one is suggesting that we be celebrating an abortion at any point in the pregnancy.”
A one-minute clip of the segment, tweeted last year by a reporter at the event, started re-circulating on Twitter Friday night and drew withering attacks.
“WTF is this garbage??? Seriously. This is beyond the pale,” former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito tweeted. “I have sole authority in all that pertains to my body INCLUDING choosing NOT to have children. Ain’t nothing tragic about it dude. Ever. #MyBodyMyChoice.“
The clip doesn’t include the question Yang was responding to when MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle asked how he would try to win support for reproductive rights from people opposed to late-term abortions.
“Even people who are pro abortion rights — some aren’t that comfortable with this idea,” Ruhle said. “How are you sensitive to those people? How do you win their support while also taking the position that you do personally?”
Yang responded, “It’s a tragedy to me if someone decides that they don’t want to have a child and they’re on the fence … I mean it’s a very difficult personal decision and it should be something we’re very very sensitive to.”
He said emphasizing that message might win over people concerned with late-term abortions.
“I think that celebrating children, family — like these are universal human values,” he said. “And if we manage to lead on that and then say, ‘But we also stand for women’s reproductive rights,’ I believe we can bring Americans closer together on a really, really important personal issue.”
Yang, a newcomer to city politics has consistently led polls in the eight-way Democratic primary thus far and his opponents have been stepping up their attacks in recent weeks. Rival campaigns and their allies seized on the 2020 comments this weekend as a vilification of women who choose to have an abortion.
Fellow candidate Maya Wiley, while not mentioning Yang by name, tweeted Saturday: “Political leaders should fight to expand access for those who need it, not make them feel convicted in the court of public opinion for taking control of their health & body.”
State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, who has endorsed Scott Stringer’s rival mayoral campaign, also lit into Yang, saying, “Don’t be one of those guys—whose words perpetuate misogyny by making women bad for celebrating their right to choose.”
Candidate Shaun Donovan’s spokesperson, Jeremy Edwards, pointed to Yang’s past appearances on right-leaning podcasts while he was drumming up attention for his presidential campaign.
“This is what happens when you spend a majority of your time on the right wing podcast circuit—you eventually start parroting their talking points,” he tweeted.
And Melanie Roussell Newman, a senior vice president at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said: “A tragedy to decide not to have children??? In 2021? In a global pandemic? In a global climate crisis? In a systemic racism crisis? People should be forced to have kids? No sir.”
Roussell, a former colleague of Donovan who has tweeted in support of his campaign, said she was voicing her own opinion — not that of Planned Parenthood.
Yang reiterated Saturday that his stance on late-term abortion is the same as his stance on abortion in general.
“I’m relatively absolutist on the fact that it should be up to a woman to decide what to do,” he said. “My stance on [late-term abortion] is identical — it should be up to a woman to determine what to do in concert with her physician.”
He dismissed the attacks from his opponents as a political tactic.
“I can’t speak to why other campaigns do what they do,” Yang said. “I will say we’re focused on sending a positive message about where the city needs to go, and we’re focused on that every single day.”
David Giambusso contributed reporting.