Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, accompanied by his wife, Jane, speaks to culinary workers protesting outside Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas on Thursday. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

LAS VEGAS -- At a Democratic town hall in Las Vegas, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders declared himself not only a "strong feminist," but also an "honorary woman," a distinction given to him by feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

"I consider myself a strong feminist," Sanders told a young woman from the audience who asked the question. "And in fact, Gloria Steinem — everybody knows Gloria is one of the leading feminists in America -- made me an honorary woman many, many years ago."

"I don’t know exactly what that meant, but I accepted it when she came to campaign for me," Sanders added.

The answer elicited laughter from the audience. But it comes at a time when Sanders's campaign has taken heat for the comments made by a surrogate, rapper "Killer Mike."

At an event in Georgia this week, the rapper repeated the words of a female activist who he said told him that a "uterus" doesn't qualify a person to be president. Sanders has dismissed the controversy as "gotcha politics."

And on Thursday night, he did not address it but noted his efforts to pass legislation mandating equal pay for equal work for women.

"Women are making 70 cents on the dollar compared to men," Sanders said. "Minority women, women of color… are making substantially less."

"That has nothing to do with economics. That has everything to do with sexism," he added. 

The comments prompted nearly instant condemnation from Clinton's allies.

Abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America slammed Sanders, saying that he failed to demonstrate that he had earned his "honorary woman" title.

"Bernie is a good man, and being a woman means understanding that we need equal pay but that equal pay doesn't buy us much if we can't plan our families," NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said in a statement. "Being a woman means knowing that undoing Citizens United doesn't secure our fundamental freedoms and restore abortion access under assault daily by anti-choice forces in this country.

"Being a woman means understanding that no man ever had to say 'Hey guys, let's stand together, and vote for a man' because the status quo in this country has supported that for over two hundred years," she added. "Even as an 'honorary woman,' Bernie Sanders doesn't quite get it."