Hillary Clinton Says Abortion Isn’t a Right If It’s Limited

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Hillary Clinton at Monday night's town hall.
Hillary Clinton at Monday night's town hall.Photo: Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

For months, people have been urging moderators of the Democratic presidential debates to #AskAboutAbortion, but reproductive rights haven’t come up in any of the seven debates thus far. The topic finally came up last night in an unlikely place: a town hall on Fox News. And Hillary Clinton used the opportunity to remind voters that limited reproductive rights aren’t really rights at all.

Moderator Bret Baier asked Bernie Sanders about abortion first, specifically if he could name a circumstance during pregnancy where he’d be okay with abortion being illegal. “I happen to believe that it is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body,” he said, before laying into Republicans who say they want to limit governmental reach, but are somehow in favor of instructing women what they can and can’t do with their wombs. When asked again about any possible restrictions, he explained his stance further, “I am very strongly pro-choice. That is a decision to be made by the woman, her physician, and her family. That’s my view.”

In Clinton’s response, however, she reminded people that the abortion debate in this country isn’t simply about stages of pregnancy, it’s about whether access to the procedure — which has been legal since 1973 — really exists. 

“Let me put this in context, because it’s an important question. Right now, the Supreme Court is considering a decision that would shut down a lot of the options for women in Texas, and there have been other legislatures that have taken similar steps to try to restrict a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. Under Roe v. Wade, which is rooted in the Constitution, women have this right to make this highly personal decision with their family in accordance with their faith, with their doctor. It’s not much of a right if it is totally limited and constrained.​”

Thank you very, very much, HRC, for pointing this out on national television.

Clinton went on to say that she thinks we have to continue to stand up for women’s reproductive rights, and to defend Planned Parenthood. She clarified that she opposes a 20-week ban but supports restrictions on late-term abortions, with exceptions for the life and health of the mother (she’s previously said that cases of rape and incest apply here, too).

As for the aforementioned limits and constraints: Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the Texas case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which assesses the legality of the Texas law HB2 requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles and facilities that meet the standards of ambulatory surgical centers. (Medical groups have filed briefs with the Supreme Court arguing that such restrictions are completely unnecessary, by the way.) These are just two examples of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, a.k.a. TRAP laws, which states have been passing since Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992.

That case permitted states to regulate abortion in order to protect the health of the mother so long as the laws didn’t impose a “substantial obstacle” to a woman trying to obtain an abortion — such an “undue burden” would be a violation of her constitutional rights. Other examples of anti-choice laws include waiting periodsforced ultrasounds, and a minimum distance from schools. The result? Since 2011, there’s been a net loss of more than 140 abortion clinics nationwide. Texas has seen longer wait times for appointments since 2013, and that could leave women paying more for second-trimester abortions, assuming they can be cared for before the 20-week cutoff.

As women’s ability to have an abortion becomes increasingly determined by where they live and how much money they have, Clinton’s comments are more necessary than ever.