The Montgomery Advertiser sent nine questions to Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones and Republican Senate nominee Tommy Tuberville on abortion and gun rights. Jones’ responses are printed below. The Tuberville campaign declined to answer the questions. Should they change their minds, we will include their answers here.
Do you believe a woman has a right to an abortion?
Jones: There are deep disagreements on the issue of abortion and I respect those who oppose abortion for religious or personal reasons. But while some candidates might deny the complexity of this issue — and appeal to folks in a politically self-serving way that ignores the facts — this issue is rarely so simple for those who face this gut-wrenching situation.
However, I also respect the dignity and rights of women and their ability to make decisions about their health and their body. I do not believe you can simply discuss abortion without also discussing women’s health and the various stages of pregnancy. I know of no one who is “for” abortion, and I believe that Alabamians have more in common on this issue than people realize. I’ve always maintained that abortion is a deeply personal decision between a woman, her health care provider and her faith and have agreed with U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have affirmed that safe and legal access to abortion is a woman’s constitutional right, at least through early stages of her pregnancy.
What restrictions, if any, do you support on abortion? Does a woman have a right to an abortion in the case of a medical emergency or a pregnancy caused by sexual assault?
Jones: Your question is essentially the state’s existing law, which allows for an abortion in the case of a medical emergency or a pregnancy caused by sexual assault, which I support. I oppose late-term abortions, which are extremely rare, except for instances of rape, incest, or when the life and health of the mother is in jeopardy. I was one of only three Democrats to vote for the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which mandates that a baby born alive during an abortion must be afforded the same degree of care that would apply to any other child delivered at the same gestational age. I also support the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used for abortions except for cases of rape, incest, and the endangerment of the life of the mother.
Given the nature of false attacks that have been leveled against me, let me repeat for your readers the truth: I am not in favor of late term abortions, and I am not in favor of using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions.
Studies by the Washington University School of Medicine in 2012 and the University of Michigan in 2017 showed that making contraception free or more easily obtainable reduced unwanted pregnancies, which in turn reduced abortion rates. What steps, if any, do you support to make contraception more affordable or accessible?
Jones: Contraception should be affordable and accessible to those who choose to use it. That has been an effective step toward reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, and making sure abortion is as rare as possible. Cost should no longer be a barrier. Since 1970, Title X Planning Centers, administered by the Office of Population Affairs at HHS, have provided birth control and other family planning services to low-income women. These clinics help avert an estimated 1 million unintended pregnancies each year. Since 1972, states have been required to provide family planning services and supplies to people on Medicaid. Under the 2010 Affordable Care Act, insurance plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace and many other plans must cover FDA-approved birth control prescribed by a woman’s doctor without cost-sharing. I fully support extending these measures.
The nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court is widely viewed as a proxy fight over Roe v. Wade. Would you support an otherwise qualified Supreme Court nominee who does not share your views on abortion, and why or why not?
Jones: The question attempts to elicit an answer through the back door about a nominee of whom I made my position known before she was nominated. As a member of the Supreme Court Bar and a lawyer who has worked both as a prosecutor and defense attorney, I am deeply concerned about the future independence and credibility of our judicial branch of government. We must protect it as a trusted arbiter of justice, free from judicial activism. Mitch McConnell’s move to rush the confirmation of this nominee may very well cause irreparable harm to the confidence that the American people should have in the independence of the Supreme Court. I have said that I will consider the record and the character of President Trump’s nominee should he win re-election but that I would not vote to confirm any nominee before the election. Thousands of people have already cast their ballot and they ought to be able to have a voice in who picks the next Supreme Court Justice. There’s too much at stake — especially when it comes to our health care and protecting folks with pre-existing conditions — to ignore the will of the American people in this process.
Individual women who seek abortions often cite multiple reasons for doing so, including financial pressures; their relationships with their partners, and timing. What steps can Congress take to address some of these root causes?
Jones: Time and again, studies show that the best way to reduce abortions is to improve the quality of life and economic outlook for women. I will continue to push for the Paycheck Fairness Act, an increase in the minimum wage, and a comprehensive approach to economic development that ensures a good-paying job and affordable health care for all Alabamians. This also requires us to address the racial inequities in our economic system. Black men and women face double-digit unemployment rates throughout Alabama, a far higher rate than their white counterparts.
We have significant health care disparities in our state. Black women face a higher maternal mortality rate, as well as a higher rate of infant mortality. To address those inequalities in health care, and reduce disparities in health outcomes, I’ve also led numerous pieces of pro-family legislation in the U.S. Senate, including the Healthy MOM Act, which would make it easier for pregnant women to get health insurance and the Maternal Outcomes Matter (MOM) Act, which would provide additional federal resources to implement best practices in maternal care to help reduce maternal deaths.
In addition to the healthcare related matters I also believe that we should provide incentives for foster care and adoption. I am a co-sponsor of the Foster Care Tax Credit Act, which ensures that financial reasons do not prevent loving families from opening their homes to foster children; and the Adoption Opportunities Act, which would reduce barriers to adoption and strengthen pre- and post-adoption support services in Alabama.
Finally, we have to have a candid conversation about education regarding contraception and birth control. Too many people in this state want to stand on a moral soapbox about this issue and ignore the fact that human beings act in certain ways that are often irresponsible or uninformed. I believe that better education and easier and cheaper access to contraception would reduce unwanted pregnancies.
Do Americans have a right to own a gun?
Jones: Yes, the right to bear arms is enshrined in our constitution in the Second Amendment. But just as Justice Scalia observed in the Heller decision, which recognized the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, like all other constitutional rights it has limitations based on public safety. Many of those limitations have been law for about 50 years. I am a proud gun owner, hunter, and sportsman. While there are certain, common-sense steps we can take to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people who would inflict violence in our communities, I fully support the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans. I wouldn’t want someone to vote against my right to bear arms or take my guns away. I have also worked hard in the Senate to keep our hunting traditions alive, especially as it relates to stopping the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease, which threatens our country’s deer population. I’ve passed bipartisan legislation to help get more resources to hunters and wildlife management agencies, and to expand research needed to stop the spread of this disease.
What restrictions, if any, do you support on gun ownership? Are you satisfied with the current federal background check system, and if not, what steps do you think should be taken to change it?
Jones: I am on-record opposing gun confiscation, mandatory buybacks or other such programs. On the other extreme, there are those in Congress who oppose even the most common-sense gun safety measures simply because they’re more interested in the campaign contributions from the NRA than they are in preserving our hunting traditions or the safety of Alabamians. I am certainly in favor of maintaining the current law that prohibits convicted felons, those convicted of a domestic violence crime, and other restrictions that have been on the books for a long time. I think background checks for gun sales serve an important purpose and should be expanded. For instance I have been to too many gun shows where I walk past a table full of new guns in their boxes but the vendor has a little sign that says “private collection” and can sell to anyone who walks up without any check at all on the purchaser. This is not only dangerous, but is also unfair to the licensed firearms seller at the next table that is required to run background checks on all purchasers. I believe there should be exemptions for law enforcement officers, individuals with a current state-issued concealed carry permit that has to be periodically renewed, and transfers between family members.
With regard to the current background check system, I believe it can always be improved. Congress did just that with the Fix NICS legislation enacted in 2018 that I supported. We need to make sure that the system is updated with accurate information, including reports from our military service branches and that it runs efficiently.
There have been proposals in Congress to extend the three-day waiting period to a seven-day waiting period; raising the minimum age on all gun purchases to 21, and strengthening gun storage laws. Do you support any of these measures, and why or why not?
I do not support raising the minimum age on all gun purchases, but would support raising the age for purchasing certain semi-automatic weapons to 21. I say certain semi-automatic weapons because I would not include semi-automatic rifles or shotguns that have limited magazine capability or pistols that are semi-automatic. I support at least a three-day waiting period for the purchase of pistols and certain semi-automatic long guns as I do not believe that places an undue burden on law abiding citizens, but has the potential for saving lives, especially of those who are contemplating suicide.
I’d like for Congress to consider closing the so-called “Charleston loophole,” which currently allows gun purchasers to take possession of their firearm after a maximum of three days, regardless of whether their background check was completed or not. This loophole came to light after the senseless killing of nine people at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Nine people attended a bible study when a young man, who we later learned had notions of inciting a ‘race war,’ walked inside the church and opened fire.
I also believe Congress should close the so-called “Boyfriend loophole” which is a gap in current gun safety legislation that can give physically abusive ex-boyfriends and convicted stalkers access to firearms. Closing this loophole would help prevent domestic violence deaths.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alabama in 2018 had the second-highest rate of death by firearms in the nation, only trailing Mississippi. In 2017, the majority of these deaths in Alabama involved people taking their own lives. At a congressional level, what steps if any would you take to address the state’s firearm mortality rate?
More important than any gun reform is improving the quality of life for all Alabamians and strengthening access to mental health treatment. This means expanding Medicaid to give more than 300,000 people in this state health care—including access to mental health services. It means destigmatizing things like depression, PTSD, and other mental illnesses so that no one feels uncomfortable talking about their pain. And, frankly, we need elected leadership from the top-down that shows up to work every day fighting for the needs of the people they serve. Deaths of despair have increased significantly since the start of this pandemic. Any person reading this who is thinking of hurting him or herself should call 800-273-8255 to speak to someone confidentially and for no cost. Help is out there.
I addressed this issue in the very first speech I gave on the floor of the United States Senate. Sixty percent of U.S. gun deaths in 2017 were deaths by suicide. States that have waiting periods when someone attempts to purchase a firearm have seen significant decreases in these deaths. Waiting three days before obtaining a firearm will save lives, and a slight inconvenience does not deprive law-abiding gun owners of their rights. These folks are our friends and our neighbors—some of them are veterans dealing with the effects of PTSD. We owe them, and their families, a few common-sense safeguards.
I also believe that we can do more to keep people safe through extreme risk — or “red flag” — laws which many states, including Florida, have already adopted. These laws allow family members and law enforcement to seek help from a judge to temporarily remove guns and weapons from people who pose a serious risk to themselves or others.
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brian Lyman at 334-240-0185 or [email protected]