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Abortion Rights Take Center Stage at Republican Debate

Ally Boguhn

Republicans facing off in Saturday night’s presidential debate sparred over whose anti-choice stances were the most draconian.

Republicans facing off in Saturday night’s presidential debate sparred over whose anti-choice stances were the most draconian.

During the debate at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, conservative commentator Mary Katharine Ham questioned Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) about how he could reach young voters on “social issues” such as same-sex marriage and abortion when Democrats charged that his stances showed “intolerance and extremism.”

Rubio responded by suggesting that abortion is “a human rights issue” that requires balancing women’s bodily autonomy with the legal rights of a fetus. “They’re in conflict,” Rubio said. “And as a policymaker, I must choose which one of these two sides takes precedence. And I have chosen to err on the side of life.”

The Florida senator criticized the media for not posing similar questions to Democratic candidates during their party’s debates, demanding that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party be held accountable for being what he deemed as “extremists” on abortion rights.

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“There has been five Democratic debates. The media has not asked them a single question on abortion, and on abortion, the Democrats are extremists. Why doesn’t the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that all abortion should be legal, even on the due date of that unborn child?” Rubio said, promoting the disproved notion pushed by conservatives that abortion is common in the late stages of pregnancy.

Abortions during the third trimester are exceedingly rare—about 1 percent of abortions occur after 21 weeks of pregnancy. State laws severely restrict access to the medical procedure in the late stages of pregnancy, despite criticism from medical professionals who note that many common health issues in both the fetus and pregnant person are not detected until that late point in the pregnancy.

Rubio made the misleading allegation that Clinton supports so-called partial birth abortion.

“Why don’t they ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that partial birth abortion, which is a gruesome procedure that has been outlawed in this country. She thinks that’s a fundamental right,” Rubio asked, using the ambiguous term coined by anti-choice activists who use inflammatory rhetoric to make it difficult for lawmakers to oppose their legislative priorities.

The senator ignored that Clinton has consistently said she is open to some restrictions, including so-called partial birth abortion bans, as long as they include exceptions.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, after a follow-up question about recent charges made against Rubio alleging he is “too pro-life” to win the general election, pivoted to laud his efforts to undermine access to abortion.

“Look, I’m pro-life. In fact, on this stage, I’m the most pro-life person because I’ve acted on it for eight years as governor of the state of Florida,” Bush said, pointing to his work funding crisis pregnancy centers in the state, and erecting additional barriers to abortion access.

Rubio fired back that if he were elected, he would sign anti-choice measures that contained exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the patient, but that he “would rather lose an election than be wrong” about abortion.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chimed in that he, too, has a long history of attacking reproductive health in his home state.

“I’ve been pretty helpful to the pro-life cause in one of the most pro-choice states in the union,” Christie bragged, referring to the $7.5 million he cut from the state budget meant for funding family planning service providers, including Planned Parenthood.

Clinton responded to Republicans’ criticism of her abortion stance during a Sunday interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, calling Rubio’s attacks “pretty pathetic,” before clarifying her own views.

“This is something that illustrates how Sen. Rubio has just been going as far as he can to try to, I guess, buttress his credentials with certain parts of the Republican constituency,” Clinton said. “I’ve been on record for years about where I stand on making abortions safe and legal, the exceptions that are appropriate that should be looked into, and the very difficult choices that very few women have to confront that lead to excruciating kinds of decisions.”

Clinton pointed to the specifics of Roe v. Wade, addressing Republicans’ claims that she would allow abortions at any stage in pregnancy without restrictions. “People should go back and read Roe v. Wade. Reasonable kinds of restrictions can be imposed as long as the life and health of the mother are taken into account and that’s what the law is today.”

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