What Clinton actually seems to want are more opportunities to launch into familiar — and vague — talking points about funding Planned Parenthood and preserving Roe v. Wade. And she wants chances to slam Donald Trump for his recent statement that women who undergo illegal abortions should face "some form of punishment," a position he quickly reversed. Here's how Clinton pivoted off a question about Supreme Court nominees to talk about abortion:
You know, there is no doubt that the only people that I would ever appoint to the Supreme Court are people who believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and Citizens United needs to be overturned. And I want to say something about this, since we're talking about the Supreme Court and what's at stake. We've had eight debates before; this is our ninth. We've not had one question about a woman's right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care — not one question.
CLINTON: And in the meantime we have states, governors doing everything they can to restrict women's rights. We have a presidential candidate by the name of Donald Trump saying that women should be punished. And we are never asked about this. And to be complete in my concern, Senator Sanders says with respect to Trump, it was a distraction. I don't think it's a distraction. It goes to the heart of who we are as women, our rights, our autonomy, our ability to make our own decisions, and we need to be talking about that and defending Planned Parenthood from these outrageous attacks.
You'll notice that Clinton didn't talk about her own abortion positions in any depth. Does she favor all abortion procedures? At any stage of a pregnancy? If not, what kinds of restrictions would she be willing to impose?
Those are the much tougher questions Clinton would surely be asked if moderators decided to broach the subject. And they should — Clinton is right about that — but she would probably do her best to avoid specifics.
How do we know? Because when Fox News Channel's Bret Baier granted Clinton's wish and asked about abortion during a televised town hall (not a debate) in March, the former secretary of state initially dodged.
BAIER: Do you think a child should have any legal rights or protections before it's born? Or do you think there should not be any restrictions on any abortions at any stage in a pregnancy?
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.
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.
With a little nudging, Clinton offered some clarity. She didn't say how late her "late pregnancy regulation" would be, but at least she started to explain the nuances of her support for abortion rights. Other moderators (there is supposedly one more debate coming, though it hasn't been scheduled) should follow Baier's lead and press for details.
But don't be fooled into thinking that Clinton is eager to discuss those details. Her response to Baier and her remarks on Thursday in Brooklyn indicate otherwise.