Hillary Clinton defended the practice of partial-birth abortion in the final presidential debate on Wednesday, obscuring her belief that appeals to the “health” of the mother would make any abortion legal at any point during a pregnancy.
Asked to defend her vote in the Senate against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which was ultimately enacted, Mrs. Clinton said she was not convinced the legislation did enough to protect the “life and health of the mother.”
“This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make, and I do not believe the government should be making it,” she said.
When asked by moderator Chris Wallace “how far you believe the right to abortion goes,” Mrs. Clinton failed to mention any specific limits on abortion she would support. Instead, she said regulations on abortion are permissible so long as “you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.”
Maureen Ferguson, senior policy adviser for The Catholic Association, said abortion at every stage of pregnancy can be justified by appealing to the “health” of the mother due to the Supreme Court’s broad interpretation of that term.
Citing the highest court’s 1973 decision in Doe v. Bolton, the lesser-known companion case to Roe v. Wade, she said Mrs. Clinton “knows full well has been defined by the Supreme Court to include ‘all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient.’”
“‘Health’ is a legal loophole you can drive a truck through,” Ms. Ferguson said in a statement.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump jumped on Mrs. Clinton’s support of partial-birth abortion during the debate.
“Well, I think it’s terrible,” Mr. Trump said. “If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month [of pregnancy], you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.”
Mrs. Clinton said her opponent was using “scare rhetoric” in describing partial-birth abortion.
“Well, that is not what happens in these cases, and using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate,” she said.
A chorus of liberal commentators later weighed in on the exchange, suggesting Mr. Trump confused the procedure of late-term abortion with that of a Cesarean birth, in which the baby is delivered through the mother’s abdomen.
“He was working his base and not even understanding the basics of human biology — the idea that we’re going to rip a fetus out of a woman at nine months the day before birth,” MSNBC’s Joy Reid said. “He doesn’t even understand the issue he’s talking about.”
But Lila Rose, president of Live Action, said Ms. Reid “doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” She said at least 13,000 late-term abortions take place in America every year.
“It’s ironic and contradictory that, in the same breath, these pro-abortion commentators are saying late-term abortions don’t take place, yet at the same time, they’re advocating they be permitted in our country,” Ms. Rose said.
And Mallory Quigley, communications director for the Susan B. Anthony List, said that, regardless of method, Mr. Trump’s description of abortion is exactly what happens.
“Whether or not it’s partial-birth, or dilation and evacuation, or dilation and curettage, the same thing is happening there,” Ms. Quigley said. “Literally the baby is being ripped from the womb intact or in pieces. That’s what happens in an abortion.”
Grazie Pozo Christie, a doctor who sits on the advisory board for The Catholic Association, said Mrs. Clinton’s stance on abortion is out of line with the majority of Americans.
“Hillary Clinton continues to play exclusively to the minority of the American electorate that shares her radical stance on abortion,” Ms. Christie said. “Pressed on what limits on abortion she believes in, Mrs. Clinton could not come up with a single one.”