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Democratic Candidates Finally Get Asked About Abortion

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 8/03/2016 Marina Fang
ATHENA IMAGE © Scott Olson via Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have faced off numerous times in televised debates. But neither had been asked a question about abortion or women's reproductive rights until Monday, at a Fox News town hall in Detroit.

Moderator Bret Baier asked Clinton, the former secretary of state, and Sanders, the independent senator from Vermont, whether there was any case in which abortions should be illegal.

Both candidates affirmed their support of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, and a woman's right to choose.

"I'm very strongly pro-choice," Sanders said. "That is a decision to be made by the woman, her physician and her family."

Sanders chided Republicans for criticizing his view of more government regulation of the economy, while they attempt to use government regulation to limit abortion rights for women.

"I happen to believe that it is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body," Sanders said. "They want to tell every woman in America what she should do with her body." 

Clinton criticized state-level efforts to make it harder for women to get abortions, such as a restrictive Texas law now under scrutiny by the Supreme Court.

"Under Roe versus Wade, women have this right to make this highly personal decision with their family in accordance with their faith, with their doctor," Clinton said. "It's not much of a right if it is totally limited and constrained."

Clinton conceded that she favors "a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother." She said she opposes a recent congressional bill that would ban all abortions after the 20th week of a woman's pregnancy, without such exceptions.

Sanders noted that "there are some Democrats who say after five months, with the exception of the life of the mother or the health of the baby, that perhaps that's something to look at."

It's not surprising that the conservative-leaning Fox News would frame an abortion question to suggest restrictions are required.

But even Sanders' campaign noticed it was Fox News that was first to raise the issue in any televised Democratic debate or town hall.

Abortion rights advocates, and organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL, have repeatedly criticized debate moderators for not mentioning abortion during previous Democratic debates or town halls.

As HuffPost's Samantha Lachman reported following Saturday's Democratic debate -- the seventh in which abortion was not a topic -- it's important for both candidates to articulate their positions on the issue, even if they mostly agree.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) both oppose Republican-backed restrictions on abortion and support broadening access to contraception. The networks' reluctance to ask them about reproductive health suggests they think agreement would make for a boring question, even though they ask the candidates about issues on which they agree all the time. Sanders and Clinton's Republican counterparts, who all oppose abortion to varying degrees, have been asked about abortion and Planned Parenthood in multiple debates. 

The dearth of reproductive health questions in the Democratic debates has inspired a Twitter campaign, #AskAboutAbortion. The trend has also confused anti-abortion and abortion rights advocates, as both camps see it as a crucial issue that the candidates should have an opportunity to address. 

In addition, the issue is timely. The pending Supreme Court case and abortion restrictions passed by GOP-controlled state legislatures are just two possible angles for debate moderators to ask questions of the candidates.


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