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Clinton criticizes Sanders for dismissing Trump’s abortion ‘punishment’ gaffe

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to a packed venue at the Apollo Theater in the Harlem  area of New York City on  March 30. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

HARRISON, N.Y. — Hillary Clinton had plenty of harsh words for businessman Donald Trump after he made -- then took back -- comments suggesting that women should be punished for seeking abortions. But on Thursday, she also criticized her rival Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for suggesting that Trump's comments were getting too much attention.

Clinton slammed Sanders for — in her assessment — suggesting that Trump's comments were a distraction from the "serious issues" facing America.

“To me this is a serious issue, and this is a very serious discussion," Clinton said while campaigning on the campus of SUNY Purchase College.

She acknowledged that Sanders supports a woman's right to choose, but said that abortion rights groups Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed her because "I have led" on abortion issues.

"I know that given what is happening in states across the country, we need a president who  is passionate about this," Clinton said. "Seeing it as a top priority because women’s health is under assault."

"This is a fundamental constitutional right and we cannot think it is anything other than really serious," she added.

Clinton was referring to comments by Sanders in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday.

How Chris Matthews tripped up Donald Trump on abortion

Sanders criticized Trump's statement as "crazy" and "absurd," and said that the Republican Party has "nothing of substance" to say to the American people. But he also criticized the media for dwelling on Trump's "stupid remarks."

"Because media is what media is today, any stupid or absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week," Sanders said. "Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America. Donald Trump will not look quite so interesting in that context."

Pressed by Maddow about whether Sanders was proposing that the media ignore Trump's position on abortion, Sanders said he was not.

"Of course it should be mentioned, but so should Trump's overall position," Sanders said. "What is Donald Trump's position on wages in America? ... What is Donald Trump's position on taxes? ... What is Donald Trump's position on climate change?"

"On and on it goes," Sanders said. "All I am saying is that Trump is nobody's fool. He knows how to manipulate the media."