Debunking the latest lie about Hillary Clinton: No, she didn't say she supports a 20-week ban on abortion

It's not very dramatic, but it's true: Clinton and Sanders are identical when it comes to their views on abortion

By Amanda Marcotte

Published March 8, 2016 7:24PM (EST)

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (AP)
Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton (AP)

The Democratic primary is getting really heated, so I shouldn't be too surprised, though I will remain eternally disappointed, to see someone try to assert that Bernie Sanders is more pro-choice than Hillary Clinton. Monday night, Fox News had a town hall for the Democratic candidates. Both were asked about abortion, though Bret Baier used exponentially more misleading and loaded language with Clinton than he did with Sanders.

"Can you name a single circumstance at any point in a pregnancy in which you would be OK with abortion being illegal?" is the question Sanders got.

Meanwhile, Clinton was given a trick question: "Do you think a child should have any legal rights or protections before it's born?  Or do you think there should not be any restrictions on any abortions at any stage in a pregnancy?"

The first question is straightforward. The second question is based on a false premise, that a fetus is a "child" and that its rights include the right to live off another person's body against her will, a right that no actual child that is actually born has.

Sanders gave a lot more clear-cut of an answer, as is his habit, saying, "I happen to believe that it is wrong for the government to be telling a woman what to do with her own body."

Clinton, for better or for worse (and this is a time it's for worse), tried to be nuanced. Here is the transcript:

CLINTON: So I think we have to continue to stand up for a woman's right to make these decisions, and to defend Planned Parenthood, which does an enormous amount of good work across our country.

BAIER:  Just to be clear, there's no — without any exceptions?

CLINTON:  No — I have been on record in favor of a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.

I object to the recent effort in Congress to pass a law saying after 20 weeks, you know, no such exceptions, because although these are rare, Bret, they sometimes arise in the most complex, difficult medical situation.

BAIER:  Fetal malformities and...

CLINTON:  And threats to the woman's health.

BAIER:  Sure.

CLINTON:  And so I think it is — under Roe v. Wade, it is appropriate to say, in these circumstances, so long as there's an exception for the life and health of the mother.

Quoted, at length, to make it clear that there's a lot of context here. My take is that she was saying that she is for "late-term" restrictions as they are currently defined under Roe v. Wade, which means that she is OK with restricting abortions in the third trimester, which even the most conservative estimate only starts at 24 weeks. She only mentioned the 20-week abortion ban in an ill-advised bid to turn the subject towards how severe the Republicans have become on this subject, before righting the ship and bringing it back to the I-agree-with-Roe position. Which, again, would mean restrictions at 24 weeks (or later), not 20 weeks.

Or you could ungenerously try to argue that she was saying she's for a 20 week ban if it has exceptions. That's what Eric Levitz at New York magazine tries to do:

By contrast, Clinton said she is “on record in favor of a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother.” That stance contradicts the position of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which has nonetheless thrown its support behind the Democratic front-runner.

Except the link he provides is not about late-term abortion bans. It's about 20-week bans.  Twenty weeks is halfway through a pregnancy and is not what most medical professionals would consider "late term." That phrase is usually employed to speak only of third-trimester abortions, which, as Clinton emphasized in the town hall, are almost exclusively done because of fetal abnormalities or because the mother has serious health problems.

Planned Parenthood doesn't really even deal with late-term abortion at all, because it's a specialized and extremely rare form of abortion that only a few private providers in the country offer.

The good news is that this question of how Clinton actually feels about 20-week bans can easily be resolved with my little friend named Google. Typing the phrase "clinton 20 week abortion" was like magic and led directly to a news item from last May laying out Hillary Clinton's view in clear, irrefutable terms: She opposes the 20-week ban.

The Hillary Clinton campaign jabbed at House Republicans after they passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks on Wednesday.

"Politicians should not interfere with personal medical decisions, which should be left to a woman, her family and her faith, in consultation with her doctor or health care provider," Clinton's senior policy adviser Maya Harris said in a statement.

She added that the bill conflicts with Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court decision that protects the right to an abortion. Court precedent has generally protected abortions up to the point of viability, at 24 weeks.

“This bill is a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade, which has protected a woman's constitutional right to privacy for over forty years," Harris said. "The bill puts women's health and rights at risk, undermines the role doctors play in health care decisions, burdens survivors of sexual assault, and is not based on sound science."

Quoted at length, again, to prove there's no wiggle room here. Clinton's campaign officially stated that she supports legal abortion at 20 weeks in consultation with a doctor and stands by the Roe decision, which protects the legal right to such abortions.

Clinton should have been clearer, there is no doubt about that. But, under the circumstances, it's a stretch to take a mildly garbled comment and try to extrapolate that Clinton is more conservative than Sanders on the issue of choice.

The truth is that there's no real difference between Sanders and Clinton on abortion rights. Like Clinton, Sanders invokes Roe v Wade as "the law of the land", suggesting that he has the same support that Clinton has for Roe's allowance for restrictions in the third trimester. As excitingly contrarian as it might be to spitball the idea that Sanders is somehow more feminist than Clinton on this front, he's just not. They are the same. Neither will sign Republican anti-choice bills. Both will appoint pro-choice judges much like the ones Clinton's husband appointed, namely Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer. Any hope that there's some late-breaking evidence that they differ on this is just pissing in the wind.

Amanda Marcotte

Amanda Marcotte is a senior politics writer at Salon and the author of "Troll Nation: How The Right Became Trump-Worshipping Monsters Set On Rat-F*cking Liberals, America, and Truth Itself." Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte and sign up for her biweekly politics newsletter, Standing Room Only.

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