The third and final 2016 presidential debate on Wednesday night was arguably the most substantive of the bunch, with the candidates delving deeper than we’ve seen into the greatest variety of subjects and policy areas.
For the first time in their three oft-times painful public showdowns, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and Democratic contender Hillary Clinton dove head-first into the abortion debate, with both candidates passionately defending their stances on the incredibly personal — and flammable — political issue.
This contentious part of the debate began when moderator Chris Wallace told Clinton he wanted to explore how far she believes one’s right to an abortion goes, noting that she had once been quoted “saying that the fetus has no constitutional rights” and that she once voted against “a ban on late-term, partial-birth abortions.” Wallace asked why this was the case.
Clinton responded by saying she believes Roe v. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court case that legalized abortion across America — allows for restrictions on abortion so long as the “life and the health of the mother” are taken into account.
When Clinton voted against the partial-birth abortion ban as a New York State senator, she said she wasn’t convinced these protections were embedded the measure. The former secretary of state went on to explain the difficult choice she said mothers and families sometimes face.
“The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make,” Clinton said. “I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy.”
She continued, “I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So you can regulate if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.”
Watch Clinton and Trump face-off on abortion below:
But Trump pushed back, calling Clinton’s stance on abortion “terrible,” specifically when it comes to late-term procedures. Using graphic language to illustrate his take, he said Clinton essentially condones taking a baby and “rip(ping) the baby out of the womb” in the ninth month of pregnancy — just before its birth.
“Now, you can say that that’s OK and Hillary can say that that’s OK, but it’s not OK with me, because based on what she’s saying, and based on where she’s going, and where she’s been, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month on the final day,” Trump reiterated. “And that’s not acceptable.”
Clinton proceeded to push back and decry Trump’s “scare rhetoric,” saying his characterization isn’t what happens in the cases she’s describing. She then said Trump should take the time, as she has, to meet with women who have been faced with such difficult situations, calling late-term abortion “one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make.”
Clinton went on to say she’s been across the world and has seen governments force abortions and mandate that women bear children — decisions she said governments have no right to make.
Before the abortion debate concluded, Trump once again drove home his view on the matter, saying “nobody has business” terminating an unborn child “as late as one or two or three or four days prior to birth.”
It should be noted that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on partial birth abortion in the 2007 case Gonzales v. Carhart. The law in question bans partial-birth abortion, and offers exemptions if a woman’s life is endangered; according to the Guttmacher Institute, it does not include “an exception to protect the woman’s health.”
Text of the Partial-Birth Abortion Act of 2003, which Clinton voted against as a senator, does indeed include language referring to the “life of the mother.”