Why Hillary Clinton's Debate Answer On Abortion Is So Important

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In previous presidential elections, the conversation around women (and the accompanying misogyny) usually filtered through the issue of abortion. Anti-choice candidates would quietly reveal their disdain for women's autonomy through their legislative and rhetorical attacks on safe and legal abortion — from Todd Akin’s “legitimate rape” to Rick Perry’s anti-abortion nightmare legislation that closed nearly every safe abortion clinic in the state of Texas.

But this year is different. Donald Trump’s own heinous comments and alleged physical and sexual violation of numerous women has kept abortion from being the focal point of this conversation. And abortion hasn’t been used as the silent litmus test of how candidates feel about women. Until last night.

During the debate, the two presidential candidates finally received a question about what they would do regarding abortion and the Supreme Court. Their answers couldn’t have been more revelatory.

Trump, who previously said that he believes women should be punished for having abortions, reiterated his intent to place anti-choice justices on the Supreme Court and end the right to safe and legal abortion for all Americans.

And then, Hillary Clinton answered. Her answer on abortion took on special meaning, not just because she is a woman, but because she was declaring it in response to the most overtly sexist candidate in modern history — and because she was so unequivocal in her defense of reproductive rights.
I strongly support Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a constitutional right to a woman to make the most intimate, most difficult in many cases, decisions about her health care that one can imagine. And in this case, it's not only about Roe v. Wade. It is about what's happening right now in America, so many states are putting very stringent regulations on women that block them from exercising that choice to the extent that they are defunding Planned Parenthood, which, of course, provides all kinds of cancer screenings and other benefits for women in our country.

Donald has said he's in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood. He even supported shutting the government down to defund Planned Parenthood. I will defend Planned Parenthood. I will defend Roe v. Wade, and I will defend women's rights to make their own healthcare decisions. We have come too far to have that turn back now. Indeed he said women should be punished, that there should be some form of punishment for women who obtain abortions. And I could just not be more opposed to that kind of thinking…

[At this point, debate moderator Chris Wallace asked Clinton: "You have been quoted as saying that the fetus has no constitutional rights. You also voted against a ban on late-term, partial-birth abortions. Why?"]

Because Roe v. Wade very clearly sets out that there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother are taken into account. And when I voted as a senator, I did not think that that was the case. The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make. I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy, get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So you can regulate if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.

Too often in the political conversation about abortion, even supportive politicians give away the moral high ground by rhetorically defending abortions only in cases of rape or incest, or by supporting some restrictions such as mandatory waiting periods. But abortion is moral. It is normal. It is an extremely common and safe medical procedure that one in three women in America will experience in her lifetime.

That is why it was so affirming to hear Hillary Clinton refuse to cower and defend unconstitutional bans. She didn’t waffle about supporting Planned Parenthood. She didn’t hesitate to denounce the avalanche of unconstitutional regulations that states have imposed on abortion, closing abortion clinics at record pace and forcing women to travel hundreds of miles to access care.
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[Clinton] spoke about the human aspect of abortion, one that is too often missing.


Instead, she spoke about the human aspect of abortion, one that is too often missing. Anti-choice politicians and activists love to describe late-term abortions as evil decisions made by callous, selfish women who don’t care about their bodies or their pregnancies, who are lazy, lascivious, and cold-hearted. Clinton swiftly refuted that with the reality of women who face terminating their pregnancies in later stages (a rare occurrence, to be noted — only 1.5% of abortions occur after 20 weeks).

Misinformation about abortion is rampant; it’s a significant part of the political war on safe abortion. Even Chris Wallace fell into it, asking Donald Trump about “partial-birth abortion,” an entirely unscientific name that was created by anti-choice legislators and activists to put abortion-rights supporters on the defensive and to successfully ban a safe procedure in 2003. There is nothing accurate about this name. And when Wallace asked Trump for his thoughts on it, there was nothing accurate in the response, either.

I think it is terrible if you go with what Hillary is saying in the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby. Now you can say that that's okay and Hillary can say that that's okay, but it's not okay with me. Because based on what she's saying and based on where she's going and where she's been, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb on the ninth month on the final day. And that's not acceptable.

Not only did Trump entirely distort second- and third-trimester abortions, but he characterized Clinton and the women who have them as heartless and cruel. And that made Clinton's compassionate response even more meaningful:

Well, that is not what happens in these cases and using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate. You should meet with some of the women that I've met with — women I've known over the course of my life. This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make. And I do not believe the government should be making it. You know, I've had a great honor of traveling across the world on behalf of our country. I've been to countries where governments either forced women to have abortions, like they used to do in China, or forced women to bear children, like they used to do in Romania. And I can tell you the government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their faith with medical advice, and I will stand up for that right.

Trump’s clueless and harmful comments make Clinton’s full-throated embrace of abortion rights even more significant. In that moment, she not only affirmed Roe v. Wade and the right to a safe and legal abortion, but she affirmed the humanity of women who have abortions. She took the entirety of American women on her back to fight against a man who has taken misogyny to entirely new levels. Women have been saying, “Enough!” for weeks about Donald Trump, and they’ve been saying it for years about humiliating and violating restrictions on their basic health care.

The fight to defend safe and legal abortion is far from over, but Hillary Clinton just reminded us that on November 8, we can win a significant battle.

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