Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles that will examine the presidential candidates' stances on various hot-button issues.
Recent congressional passage of the first significant federal restrictions on abortion is certain to be a crucial issue as Democratic candidates vie for their party's nomination.
On October 21, the United States Congress agreed on a bill that would ban the practice of partial-birth abortion. This decision has made abortion a key topic, especially for Democratic candidates who have either been opposed to or unclear on certain abortion issues in the past.
Many consider former House minority leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) to be the Democratic candidate with the most conservative stance on abortion rights.
Kathy Roeder, Gephardt's New Hampshire Communications director, said that Gephardt's position on abortion is officially pro-choice.
However, Gephardt has voted against partial-birth abortions and other late-term abortions on over seven occasions.
Even though Gephardt did not support the most recent legislation on partial-birth abortion, Roeder said that Gephardt would have supported the bill if it had included provisions for the health of the mother.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), another presidential candidate, has been traditionally considered an adversary of abortion rights. Throughout his terms in Congress, Kucinich has voted consistently to impose restrictions on abortion rights.
However, Kucinich drastically altered his stance on the issue in 2002. According to Julia Prange, Kucinich's national issues coordinator, Kucinich is now a strong advocate of abortion rights.
Prange argued that his new perspective came not simply as a change of heart, but "an expansion of views."
Kucinich was raised by a Roman Catholic family that shunned abortion rights, Prange said. However, through dialogue with community members and advocates of women's rights, Kucinich realized that broader abortion freedoms were necessary to better women's health and freedom.
Kucinich now believes that scaling back on a woman's right to choose "blocks women from achieving equality in society," Prange said.
Many have also expressed concerns as to whether or not General Wesley Clark had taken a position on the abortion issue.
As recently as Aug. 1, Clark told national media outlets that he had not entirely formulated his position on abortion. "I don't know whether I'd sign that bill [the partial-birth abortion ban] or not. I'm not into that detail on partial-birth abortion. In general ... I'm pro abortion rights," Clark said on CNN Crossfire.
However, more recently, Clark provided further formalized detail on his abortion stance.
Clark responded to President Bush's signing of the Late Term Abortion Bill on Nov. 5 in a press release that stated, "our government has no right to come between a woman, her family and her doctor in making such and personal and private decision."
Like Gephardt, Kucinich and Clark, the three Senate Democrats pursuing the Democratic party nomination -- Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John Edwards (D-NC) and John Kerry (D-MA) -- and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean also opposed the ban on partial birth abortion.
Another point of difference between the Democratic candidates is whether candidates would use a Roe v. Wade litmus tests to screen Supreme Court nominees if elected president.
Many abortion rights advocates believe that in order to guarantee that Roe v. Wade is not overturned in the future, a Democratic President must appoint Supreme Court justices who have explicitly indicated their support for the decision.
Kerry and Kucinich have indicated that they would screen Supreme Court nominees on the abortion issue. Dean has not gone as far as promising an abortion litmus test, however.
Dean has promised, however, that he would appoint justices that believe in a reading of the Constitution that is radically different than that of Justice Antonin Scalia -- considered by many to be a foe of abortion rights.
Many have indicated that Lieberman and Gephardt's outlooks on this issue are particularly confusing.
Both candidates have expressed that they would not screen potential Supreme Court nominees on the abortion issue, even though they would prefer to appoint a judge who supports Roe v. Wade.
Gephardt's stance is not as paradoxical as it seems, according to Roeder.
"This means that Gephardt would be evaluating justices for nomination on a broad range of issues," Roeder said. "While analysis on [Roe v. Wade] would be one of the issues for appointing justices, it would not be the only one."