Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders discussed abortion for the first time during the Milwaukee debate, after calls from abortion political advocacy group NARAL, which urged the Democrats to go on offense about abortion rights at a time when they are being challenged.
— NARAL (@NARAL) February 12, 2016
Debate moderator Judy Woodruff asked about women’s issues — but not abortion per se — when she asked Clinton about the New Hampshire primary vote, in which Sanders won 55 percent of womens’ votes. “What are women missing about you?” Woodruff asked Clinton.
Clinton responded that she has spent her “entire adult life toward making sure that women are empowered to make their own choices, even if that choice is not to vote for me,” and added that it is important to “unleash the full potential of women and girls in our society.”
Woodruff then raised the issue of former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright warning Democrat women that “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women,” and asked Clinton if she agrees with Albright, who was clearly reminding Democrat women of the battle looming over abortion rights.
“When it comes to the issues that are really on the front lines … equal pay, paid family leave … we still have some barriers to knock down,” Clinton said, still not addressing abortion. “That’s at the core of my campaign.”
Clinton then drew applause when she noted that, of all the presidential debates, “This is the first time there has been a majority of women on the stage,” referring to herself and the two female moderators.”
It was Bernie Sanders, however, who actually turned the discussion toward abortion.
“I am very proud … that I have a lifetime … a lifetime 100 percent pro-choice record,” he said, but then he veered off the topic of abortion and into paid leave and equal pay.
“I have said many times I’m not asking people to support me because I’m a woman, I’m asking people to support me because I’m the most qualified, experienced, and ready person to be the president and commander-in-chief,” Clinton said, then finally venturing into the topic of abortion:
I was very proud to get the endorsement of Planned Parenthood Action Fund because I’ve been a leader on these issues, I’ve gone time and time again to take on the vested interests of those who would make women’s healthcare decisions the province of the government instead of women ourselves.
I’m very proud that NARAL endorsed me, because …we need a leader on women’s issues, somebody who — yes — votes right, but much more than that leads the efforts to protect the hard fought gains that women have made that — make no mistake about it — are under tremendous attack, not just by the Republican presidential candidates, but by a whole national effort to try to set back women’s rights.
Sanders “concurred” that “women’s rights are under fierce attack all over this country” and said Republicans all over the country are saying government is the enemy, “but … when it comes to a woman having to make a very personal choice … in that case, my Republican colleagues love the government and want the government to make that choice for every woman in America. If that’s not hypocrisy, I don’t know what hypocrisy is.”
An email sent to NARAL supporters asked them to tweet with #AskAboutAbortion up until the Democratic debate Thursday night. NARAL board member Renee Bracey Sherman wrote:
The last few Democratic debates have left me astounded. Reproductive freedom is at serious risk in this country. But still, not a single question about abortion rights has been asked at ANY of the five Democratic debates. Not one.
In the first few weeks of 2016 alone, state legislatures have introduced 147 anti-choice bills. That’s an average of five per day. And in just three weeks, the Supreme Court will hear the case out of Texas that could redefine abortion access for a generation. What will the candidates do to address the very real crisis of abortion clinics shuttering across the country?
Women on Medicaid are already barred from using their insurance to cover the cost of abortion, which means low-income people and women of color are overwhelmingly affected. How will these candidates, who are far surpassing the Republicans when it comes to addressing the issues that matter to people of color, reconcile this and make substantive change?
The pro-life Susan B. Anthony List also called for questions about abortion to be asked of Clinton and Sanders.
“We agree with NARAL and applaud their efforts to bring abortion into the Democratic primary discussion,” the group’s president Marjorie Dannenfelser said. “Not a single question in any of the previous debates has been posed to either Hillary Clinton or Sen. Bernie Sanders on the issue. Americans — including the nearly one-third of Democrats who consider themselves pro-life — deserve to know what limits, if any, they would put on abortion.”