Relative to immigration and the Islamic State, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump didn’t tangle much over abortion during the campaign, save for one high-profile exchange in the final presidential debate. Trump had slammed his opponent’s stance on abortion, mischaracterizing the kind of procedures he argued she would allow.
“If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby,” Trump said on Oct. 19.
“Well, that is not what happens in these cases,” Clinton replied. “And using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate.”
The dispute renewed the discussion around late-term abortions, which happen extremely rarely in the United States, and generally only when the health of the mother or the fetus is failing. (Fewer than 1.3 percent of abortions in the country occurred later than 21 weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and doctors won't perform the procedure at nine months.)
That interest in abortion surged Tuesday isn’t that surprising. It remains one of the most fiercely divisive topics in the country: 56 percent of U.S. adults say it should be legal in all or most cases, while 41 percent say they feel it should be banned all or most of the time, according to a June analysis from the Pew Research Center.
Both candidates’ broad stances match their party’s: Clinton says that she’ll defend access to the procedure, and Trump implied the Supreme Court under his leadership would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed an American woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy.
Since announcing her candidacy last year, Clinton has been clear on where she stands, arguing that Medicaid, the public health insurance for the poor, should cover low-income women who seek abortions.
Trump, however, has broadcast a more confusing message. Before 2011, he publicly supported abortion rights. Last year, he described himself as “pro-life.” And throughout the campaign, he has sent mixed signals to voters. As The Post’s Philip Bump noted, he took five different positions on abortion in three days.
In March, Trump declared women who get an abortion should face punishment. His campaign put out a conflicting statement a few hours later, asserting the physicians who perform the procedures should be punished — not the women.
In April, Trump said the legality of abortion should be left up to the states. “The laws are set now on abortion and that’s the way they're going to remain until they’re changed,” he said, according to CBS’s transcript. “I would’ve preferred states’ rights. I think it would’ve been better if it were up to the states. But right now, the laws are set. ... At this moment, the laws are set. And I think we have to leave it that way.”
In the last debate, he added that leaving such decisions to the states, once he’s elected, would naturally result in the illegalization of abortion.
“Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justice on, that will happen,” Trump said. “And that'll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.”
Clinton, by contrast, vowed to protect the law.
“I strongly support Roe v. Wade,” she said, “which guarantees a constitutional right to a woman to make the most intimate, most difficult, in many cases, decisions about her health care that one can imagine.”
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