Hillary Clinton used Donald Trump's remarks about punishing women who have abortions if the procedure were outlawed to level a double-barreled attack on the Republican front-runner as well as her Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.
Clinton, facing another potential loss in next Tuesday's Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary, accused Sanders of failing to make the rights of women a high priority.
“Last night, Senator Sanders agreed that Donald Trump’s comments were shameful, but then he said they were a distraction from, and I quote, ‘a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America,’” Clinton said Thursday at a rally in New York state. “To me, this is a serious issue and it is a very serious discussion.”
Female voters have helped the former secretary of state take a commanding lead in the Democratic nomination race, and she's seized on Trump's remarks and Sanders' reaction to drive home her track record on the issue and say she will keep their interests at the forefront if she wins the Oval Office.
While Clinton has tried to pivot to Trump in anticipation of a potential general-election campaign, her campaign is having to keep attention on the Democratic race. Despite Clinton's substantial lead in delegates needed to win the nomination, Sanders has generated fresh momentum from wins in Saturday's western-state caucuses and he's edged ahead of Clinton in polls before Wisconsin's primary on Tuesday.
“I know Senator Sanders supports a woman’s right to choose, but I also know Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL endorsed me because I have led on this issue, I have fought on this issue,” she told the crowd at the State University of New York at Purchase. “We need a president who is passionate about this, seeing it as a top priority because women’s health is under assault across America.”
Sanders' campaign didn't immediately answer requests for a response to Clinton. He's previously denounced Trump's comments and his spokesman, Michael Briggs, said the Vermont senator has a “100 percent lifetime voting record defending a woman's right to choose.'”
Clinton has for months tried to cast Sanders as a single-issue candidate and her team sought to portray comments he made Wednesday in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow as evidence that he's not focused on all the issues that matter to progressive voters.
“Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America,” he said, suggesting the frenzy over Trump's remarks on abortion drowned out the discussion of issues like the minimum wage and climate change.
Pressed on whether he meant that the media shouldn't cover Trump's abortion comments, Sanders reiterated that the Republican was distracting from a broader debate. “I am saying that every day he comes up with another stupid remark, absurd remark, of course it should be mentioned. But so should Trump's overall positions.”
Clinton stressed that she believes abortion is worth more than just a mention. “This goes to the heart of the choices we can make,” she said.
At an MSNBC town hall on Wednesday, Trump said there would “have to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions if the procedure were outlawed in the U.S. After an coming under a barrage of criticism from both abortion rights supporters and opponents, he backtracked, issuing two clarifications within hours. He said that if abortion were made illegal in the U.S., “the doctor or any other person performing this illegal act upon a woman would be held legally responsible, not the woman.”
Clinton's remarks were briefly interrupted by Sanders supporters who shouted, “If she wins, we lose” before walking out. She responded that she's “earned 9 million votes in the election already,” more than either Trump or Sanders. As the hecklers left, she said, “What I regret is they don’t want to listen to anyone else.”
—With assistance from Arit John.