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Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks at a rally in Purchase, N.Y., March 31, 2016. (Photo: Seth Wenig/AP)

Hmm, That's Strange... Why Would Clinton Use Trump Abortion Remarks to Attack Sanders?

Frontrunner insinuates that rival who said anti-women comments were 'shameful' and 'beyond comprehension' did not take them 'seriously' enough

Jon Queally

Even though Bernie Sanders immediately took to Twitter and called Donald Trump "shameful" for his comments on Wednesday regarding "punishment" for women who would have abortions, Hillary Clinton is now using the incident as an opportunity to attack her Democratic rival by suggesting to voters that Sanders does not take the issue of women's choice seriously enough.

"Last night, Sen. Sanders agreed Donald Trump’s comments were shameful," Clinton said during a campaign rally in Purchase, New York on Thursday. "Then he said they were a distraction from the, and I quote, 'serious discussion about serious issues facing America.'"

This was a reference to remarks Sanders made in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow on Wednesday night just after Trump's comments were making headlines nationwide.

"Shameful," Sanders told Maddow during their exchange, "is probably understating [my] position. First of all, to me, and I think to most Americans, women have the right to control their own bodies and they have the right to make those personal decisions themselves. But to punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension."

He continued, "So obviously, from my perspective, and if elected president, I will do everything that I can to allow women to make that choice and have access to clinics all over this country so that if they choose to have an abortion, they will be able to do so."

Though MSNBC acknowledged in its online reporting that Sanders never used the word "distraction" to describe either the issue of abortion or Trump's comments—and clarified that only later in their exchange did Sanders make the larger critique about how the media has consistently given too much attention to whatever absurdity comes out of the bombastic billionaire's mouth—Clinton made no such distinction in her speech on Thursday.

Despite having access to the full scope of Sanders' remarks, Clinton portrayed Sanders as someone who had blown off Trump's remarks as inconsequential. "To me, this is a serious issue and it is a serious discussion," she told the crowd in New York, drawing an implied contrast. "We need a president who is passionate about this… seeing it as a top priority because women’s health is under assault."

The insinuation that Sanders does not consider a women's right to choose as a "serious issue" compared to Clinton then became a story-line repeatedly put forth by MSNBC anchors throughout Thursday afternoon.

In response, while he didn't name Clinton directly, Sanders campaign spokesperson Michael Briggs released a statement directly to MSNBC in which he said: "Donald Trump's statement about punishing women who have abortions is an outrage. It is unbelievable that a candidate for president would make such an absurd statement. Sen. Sanders has a 100 percent lifetime voting record defending a woman’s right to choose and will do all that he can to protect and expand that right if elected president."

As New York Times political reporter Evan Halper noted:

The sharp rebuke of Sanders at a time Clinton would prefer to be focusing on Trump was another reminder that despite her commanding delegate lead, Sanders remains a threat to Clinton’s campaign. She is working hard to draw contrasts with him in her home state of New York, where a win by Sanders in the April 19 primary would raise a fresh round of questions about Clinton’s flaws as a candidate.

For those wondering if Sanders comments regarding Trump and his position on abortion were taken out of context or mischaracterized by Clinton, watch it below:

And the unedited transcript from that segment of the interview follows:

MADDOW:  After, uh, the word spread that Donald Trump had made those remarks today about abortion, that a woman needs to be punished, uh, if she seeks an abortion and abortion should be banned, you said today that was shameful.

What is shameful about it?

SANDERS:  Well, I think it is -- shameful is probably understating that position.  First of all, to me, and I think to most Americans, women have the right to control their own bodies and they have the right to make those personal decisions themselves.

But to punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension.  I -- I just -- you know, one would say what is in Donald Trump's mind except we're tired of saying that?

I don't know what world this person lives in.  So obviously, from my perspective, and if elected president, I will do everybody that I can to allow women to make that choice and have access to clinics all over this country so that if they choose to have an abortion, they will be able to do so.

The idea of punishing a woman, that is just, you know, beyond comprehension.

MADDOW:  And Mr. Trump has made -- is making headlines on -- on this issue today, obviously, because of what he said.  It's sort of, you know, taken the media day by storm.

Um, that said, I think there may be a case to be made -- and I'd love your -- just your response to this, your perspective on this, uh, that his opponent, Senator Ted Cruz, is more extreme on this issue.  And I say that, in part, because one of his national co-chairs on his Pro-Lifers for Cruz coalition, is a man named Troy Newman, who once wrote a book saying that abortion providers should be executed.

Is Ted Cruz even further out on this issue than Donald Trump is?

SANDERS:  Well, you -- you know, you're living in crazy world there.  And that is why, uh, you know, the Republican Party, if they continue in this direction, will be, as I mentioned a moment ago, a fringe party.

Uh, look, they have nothing to say.  All they can appeal is to a small number of people who feel very rabid, very rabid about a particular issue, whether it's abortion or maybe whether it's gay marriage.  That is their constituency.  They have nothing of substance.

You know, you mentioned a moment ago, Rachel, that the media is paying attention to Donald Trump.


No kidding.  Once again, every stupid remark will be broadcast, you know, for the next five days.

But what is Donald Trump's position on raising the minimum wage?

Well, he doesn't think so.

What is Donald Trump's position on wages in America?

Well, he said in a Republican debate he thinks wages are too high.

What's Donald Trump's position on taxes?

Well, he wants to give billionaire families like himself hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks.

What is Donald Trump's position on climate change?

Oh, he thinks it's a hoax perpetrated, shock of all shock, by the Chinese.  You know, on and on it goes.

But because media is what media is today, any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week.  Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.  Donald Trump will not look quite so interesting in that context.

MADDOW:  Are you suggesting, though, that the media shouldn't be focusing on his call to potentially jail women who have abortions?  Because that's another stupid --

SANDERS:  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.  How much talk do we hear about climate change, Rachel?  And Trump?  Any?

MADDOW:  He said that he cares more about nuclear climate change, which is a term that he's invented.

SANDERS:  Nuclear climate change?

MADDOW:  That's just what he comes up with when he's asked on the subject.

SANDERS:  All that I'm saying is that Trump is nobody's fool.  He knows how to manipulate the media and you say an absurd thing and the media is all over it.  And my concern is that today in America, you've got millions of people who are struggling economically.  They want to know how we're going to expand the middle class.  Overwhelmingly, people think we should raise the minimum wage.  Vast majority of people think climate change is real and a threat to our planet.  They want to do something about that.  What do we do?  Vast majority of the people think the wealthiest people in this country should start paying their fair share of taxes.  But if we don't discuss those issues, it creates the climate for people like Donald Trump to do much better than he really has a right to do.

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