With only minutes to go before the end of Tuesday night’s vice-presidential debate, the discussion finally turned to abortion. But those hoping for something original would be disappointed: Mike Pence rolled out an anti-Hillary Clinton abortion argument that was lifted directly from the playbook of Marco Rubio.
Moderator Elaine Quijado kicked off the segment, asking Pence and Tim Kaine about a time their faith and their civic duty clashed. Kaine used the opportunity to bring up his moral qualms with the death penalty. Pence used it to bring up his long record of being anti-abortion and to falsely claim Clinton supports partial-birth abortion.
“What I can’t understand is how Hillary Clinton, and now Senator Kaine at her side,” Pence began, “is to support a practice like partial-birth abortion. And to hold to the view, and I know Senator Kaine, you hold pro-life views personally, but the very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me.” Pence then suggested that Clinton would like to use taxpayer money to support abortions.
If the claim that Clinton is in favor of aborting full-term babies sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Rubio made an identical claim—rated as “False” by PolitiFact—during the Feb. 6 Republican primary debate, and Carly Fiorina repeated it during the GOP primary debate on March 30.
It wasn’t any truer when Pence said it Tuesday night. In fact, so-called partial-birth abortions were outlawed in the United States in 2003. That law was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 2007, the court ruled in Gonzalez v. Carhart that the law should stand.
In no speech at any point on the 2016 campaign trail has Clinton advocated for reviving such a practice. In an address she delivered in 2005, Clinton stated she didn’t believe the government should interfere at all in a woman’s decision to have an abortion, but she made those statements in the context of pointing out the way China and Romania had historically treated pregnant women, not in U.S. law, and not in the context of demanding the widespread acceptance of late-term abortions.
Pence’s claim that Clinton wants to free up taxpayer money to support abortions is more accurate, as the Democratic presidential nominee supports the repeal of the Hyde Amendment. That’s a provision that since the mid-1970s has barred state-funded programs like Medicaid from paying for abortions, and many contemporary Democrats have pushed for its repeal.
While it isn’t clear where Pence is getting the notion that Clinton supports partial-birth abortions (it could be any number of failed Republican candidates for president), his statements in the debate make clear that he, or whoever came up with this particular set of misleading talking points, wishes for the viewer to conflate late-term abortion with a procedure that more than half a million women undergo each year.
Kaine rebutted Pence/Rubio/Fiorina by reiterating his stated belief that it wasn’t the role of public servants to “mandate” their faith for everybody else, and that he and Clinton supported Roe v. Wade. He then suggested that the Trump-Pence ticket would punish women who had abortions. During Kaine’s response, Pence shook his head like a father who could not believe he found a marijuana joint in Kaine’s sock drawer.
Exasperated, Pence responded that neither he nor Trump would ever support legislation mandating punishment for women who had abortions. It’s an interesting claim in light of the fact that one of Pence’s lasting legacies as governor of Indiana will be the prosecution of Purvi Patel, a woman who was punished for feticide after being suspected of attempting to induce her own abortion.
After some crosstalk, Pence declared that he could not be more proud to stand with Trump, “who is standing for the right to life.”
Trump, when asked about abortion during the campaign, has done nothing but flail. In March, he took a handful of divergent positions on the issue in a matter of days. He has described himself publicly as “pro-life” since his political ambitions began to take shape in 2011. However, in 1999, he described himself in an interview with Tim Russert as “very pro=choice.” Interestingly, that interview provided Marco Rubio fodder with which to attack Trump during the very debate from which Pence’s Tuesday night abortion talking point may have been lifted.
Unless he got it from Carly Fiorina.