Donald Trump's misogyny was once again on full display Wednesday night, with the Republican nominee going so far as to call rival Hillary Clinton a "nasty woman" during the final presidential debate. But, the candidates' answers regarding abortion and the Supreme Court were the most revealing in terms of who would work to uphold the rights of women and would prove to be their "worst nightmare."
When asked by moderator and Fox News anchor Chris Wallace if he wanted the court to overturn the seminal abortion ruling Roe v Wade, Trump dodged, saying that he "will be appointing pro-life judges" who would likely overturn the decision, and send it "back to the states."
Alternately, Clinton declared her solid support for Roe v Wade, which, she said, "guarantees a constitutional right to a woman to make the most intimate, most difficult in many cases, decisions about her health care that one can imagine."
And in this case, it is not only about Roe v Wade. It is about what is happening right now in America. So many states are putting very stringent regulations on women that block them from exercising that choice to the extent that they are defunding planned parenthood which, of course provides all kinds of cancer screenings and other benefits for women in our country. Donald has said he is in favor of defunding planned parenthood. He even supported shutting the government down to defund planned parenthood. I will defend planned parenthood. I will defend Roe v Wade and I will defend women's rights to make their own healthcare decisions. We have come too far to have that turn back now. And indeed, he said women should be punished. There should be some form of punishment for women who obtain abortions. And I could just not be more opposed to that kind of thinking.
Following up, Wallace asked Clinton "how far you think the right to abortion goes," referencing her vote against a ban on "late-term partial abortions."
Though many politicians across the spectrum have treated the issue of late-term abortion as a political third rail, Clinton did not back down, saying that these decisions are "often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make"—and not to be made by the U.S. government.
"Because Roe v Wade very clearly sets out that there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother are taken into account. And when I voted as a senator, I did not think that that was the case," Clinton said. "The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make. I have met with women who have, toward the end of their pregnancy, get the worst news one could get. That their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term. Or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions."
According to a CNN focus group of undecided voters, it was the Democratic nominee's best moment in the debate.
New York Times' writer Emily Bazelon said she "felt a small thrill" after Clinton made that statement. "More than at any big moment since the convention, Mrs. Clinton owned her feminism," Bazelon wrote. "She sounded like the first woman running for president, defending other women—our autonomy and our control of our own bodies."
Others responded in kind:
Just want to note how remarkable it was to see a presidential candidate talk truthfully and empathetically about late term abortion #debate
— Jessica Valenti (@JessicaValenti) October 20, 2016
In his response, Trump leaned on "strictly political," and "fictitious" language peddled by the anti-choice community, declaring: "If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby."
Clinton lambasted her rival for using "scare rhetoric," while Trump's repeated assertion even prompted conservative commentator Glenn Beck to remark:
You have got to be kidding! Trump doesn't even know what partial birth abortion even is! Ahhhhhhhgggggg.#debate
— Glenn Beck (@glennbeck) October 20, 2016
"This is not how any abortion procedure works," wrote Slate's Christina Cauterucci. "Trump's frightening explanation highlights why it makes more sense for women to make medical decisions with their doctors, rather than bloviating sadists who aren't sure how babies exit the human body."
Trump's statement "was right in line with his dangerous worldview, where women are less than equal and do not have any form of bodily autonomy in our health care decisions, or in our interactions with men as demonstrated by his boasts about sexually assaulting women."
—Ilyse Hogue, NARAL Pro-Choice America
Clinton has a way of making this issue sound as urgent and as real as it is for women who've had, considered, or been denied abortions. This isn’t a theoretical situation that concerns some unknowable group of people, some demographic entity. This is about women, about us. It's one of the major differences between this presidential election cycle and every other one. When men discuss abortion among themselves, as they do in far too many policy discussions, it takes on a detached air of philosophical principles. When Clinton's on the stage, it becomes about flesh and blood: women's bodies and their most private, sacred rights to determine the courses of their own lives. Of all the reasons it benefits the nation to have more women in politics, this may be the biggest—the shift of women's lives from the realm of hypotheses into the real world.
The abortion exchange was not the only time women's issues took center-stage on Wednesday evening. In addition to declaring Clinton a "nasty woman," Trump also deflected questions about recent sexual assault allegations, saying those claims were "totally false," and declaring that his accusers are seeking "ten minutes of fame."
Women responded to Trump's performance both by owning his derogatory remarks with a "Nasty Woman" t-shirt to raise money for Planned Parenthood as well as with an reinvigorated get-out-the-vote campaign.
— Sophia Bush (@SophiaBush) October 20, 2016
In a statement responding to the debate, Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, applauded Clinton's "compassion," and understanding of "the complex, unique, and deeply personal choice each woman faces when considering an abortion," saying: "She's our champion for reproductive rights for a reason."
"On the other hand," Hogue continued, "Donald Trump proved yet again that he's a woman's worst nightmare." His "factually inaccurate statements on abortion care," she said, "was right in line with his dangerous worldview, where women are less than equal and do not have any form of bodily autonomy in our health care decisions, or in our interactions with men as demonstrated by his boasts about sexually assaulting women."