Dems Urge Debate Moderators to Ask Clinton and Sanders About Abortion

Both are broadly pro-choice, but Democrats want more specifics about their views and policy proposals.



A number of reproductive-rights groups and prominent feminists are pushing for Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders to be questioned about abortion during the Democrats' televised presidential debate Wednesday. While Republican candidates have been questioned about abortion several times during their debates, none of the seven Democratic debates so far have featured an abortion question. 

"Yes, we have two pro-choice candidates in this primary," said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a March 7 statement. "And voters want to hear more than principles—we want to hear a plan to address the obstacles real women face every day in determining what's best for our families. And the place to vet those plans is on a debate stage." 

Clinton and Sanders were finally asked directly about abortion during a Democratic town hall Monday. Their "differing answers … showed why it's important to ask candidates about the issue, even pro-choice Democrats," suggests Emily Crockett at Vox.

Here's how Sanders responded when asked by Fox News anchor Bret Baier whether he could "name a single circumstance at any point in a pregnancy in which [he] would be OK with abortion being illegal?" 

SANDERS: It's not a question of me being okay. This will – thank you for the question, but I happen to believe — and let me be very clear about it. I know not everybody here will agree with me. I happen to believe that it is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body.

I think, I believe, and I understand there are honest people. I mean, I have a lot of friends, some supporters, some disagree. They hold a different point of view, and I respect that. But that is my view.

And I'll tell you something which I don't like in this debate. There are a whole lot of people out there who tell me the government is terrible, government is awful, get government off our backs. My Republican friends want to cut Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare – Medicaid, education.  But somehow on this issue, they want to tell every woman in America what she should do with her body.

BAIER: I guess the genesis of the question is that there are some Democrats who say after five months, with the exception of the life of the mother or the health of the baby, that perhaps that's something to look at. You're saying no.

SANDERS: I Am very strongly pro-choice. That is a decision to be made by the woman, her physician and her family. That's my view. 

Similar questions were later posed to Clinton; here's how she responded:

CLINTON: Well, again, let me put this in context, because it's an important question. Right now the Supreme Court is considering a decision that would shut down a lot of the options for women in Texas, and there have been other legislatures that have taken similar steps to try to restrict a woman's right to obtain an abortion.

Under Roe v. Wade, which is rooted in the Constitution, women have this right to make this highly personal decision with their family in accordance with their faith, with their doctor. It's not much of a right if it is totally limited and constrained.

So I think we have to continue to stand up for a woman's right to make these decisions, and to defend Planned Parenthood, which does an enormous amount of good work across our country.

BAIER: Just to be clear, there's no — without any exceptions?

CLINTON: No — I have been on record in favor of a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother. I object to the recent effort in Congress to pass a law saying after 20 weeks, you know, no such exceptions, because although these are rare, Bret, they sometimes arise in the most complex, difficult medical situation.

BAIER: Fetal malformities and…

CLINTON: And threats to the woman's health.

BAIER: Sure.

CLINTON: And so I think it is — under Roe v. Wade, it is appropriate to say, in these circumstances, so long as there's an exception for the life and health of the mother. 

As with many subjects, "Sanders came across as more unwavering and moralistic, but also less specific," notes Crockett. "Clinton came across as more cautious and equivocal, but also more interested in nuance and policy." 

Interestingly, Sanders seemed to oppose a 20-week abortion ban of any sort, while Clinton seemed to indicate that she would be OK with one as long as there's an exception for the life and the health of the mother. But when questioned after the town hall by Vox, the Clinton campaign replied that "Clinton is on record and continues to oppose 20-week abortion bans, which are a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and therefore unconstitutional." 

Clinton "also recognizes that Roe v. Wade provides that restrictions are constitutional later in pregnancy so long as there are clear exceptions for the life and health of the woman," the email continued.  

Under Roe v Wade, the government cannot ban abortion until the point of fetal viability (that is, when the fetus can survive on its own outside of the womb). Medical consensus previously held that this was around 24-25 weeks, but scientific advances are upping the chances that babies born even earlier can survive. This has led for calls among anti-abortion activists and legislators to start banning all abortions after 20 weeks pregnancy. Twelve U.S. states have already passed 20-week bans. In places where these laws have been challenged, courts have repeatedly found them unconstitutional