Voters pining for a debate question on reproductive choice finally got what they wanted Wednesday night when Fox News’s Chris Wallace, moderator of the third and final presidential debate of the year, asked both candidates about their views on abortion. Finally, some substantive conversation between two candidates with seriously divergent views on an issue that people on both sides view as a matter of life and death. Finally, some smart talk of women’s health, or of how a pro-life candidate can realistically push an agenda that restricts abortion in a post-Texas v. Whole Women’s Health world.
Donald Trump spun an abortion stance so removed from the reality that it read less like a serious policy proposal and more like abortion fan fiction.
The big moment came early in the Las Vegas debate, when Wallace pivoted from guns to the Supreme Court’s impact on abortion access. Wallace wanted to know if, as president, Trump would appoint justices who would move to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Trump said that he would, and that abortion should be left up to the states, which is a fringe enough claim without what came next. But Donald was just getting warmed up.
Hillary Clinton noted that late-term abortion should be allowed if it is necessary to protect the life or health of a woman, and that the decision that leads to abortion late in pregnancy is often difficult. Trump responded with a third-hand story looking at itself in a funhouse mirror.
“I think it is terrible,” said the Republican nominee for president. “If you go with what Hillary is saying, you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.”
Well, no. That’s not what abortion is. Most abortions take place during the first trimester. Killing a viable fetus willy-nilly was never something Roe v. Wade protected. But Trump wasn’t done.
“Now, you can say that that is OK and Hillary can say that that is OK, but it’s not OK with me,” Trump continued. “Because based on what she is saying and based on where she’s going and where she’s been, you can take baby and rip the baby out of the womb. In the ninth month. On the final day. That’s not acceptable.”
It’s also not legal, unless there are extraordinary circumstances.
Trump’s puzzlingly weird lie could have come from a number of places. He may have been achieving a C-grade in parroting a talking point used during the primaries by his former rivals Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. But both of those candidates’ version of this particular nontruth wasn’t quite so graphic, even the one where Carly Fiorina said that she’d seen a nonexistent video of a baby being born fully alive and then ripped up by Planned Parenthood ghouls. Trump running mate Mike Pence used a less graphic, same easy-to-debunk set of myths during the vice-presidential debate this month.
But what Trump said Wednesday was more colorful than any of the previous iterations.
Planned Parenthood, unsurprisingly, wasn’t impressed. Said PPFA Political Communications Director Erica Sackin, “Donald Trump has been clear that he would ban abortion, and appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Donald Trump’s hostility to women, their health, and well-being has been clear from the beginning of his campaign—and it makes him unfit to lead this country.”
Conservative commentator Glenn Beck was less formal.
“You have got to be kidding,” Beck tweeted. “Trump doesn’t even know what partial birth abortion even is! Ahhhhhhhgggggg.”