Donald Trump said during the third presidential debate Wednesday night that his Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 abortion rights decision that protects a woman’s right to end her pregnancy until the fetus is viable outside the womb.
“If we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that will happen,” the Republican nominee said. “That will happen automatically in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.”
Once the landmark abortion rights decision is overturned, Trump said, the question of whether the procedure should be legal will “go back to the states.”
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said she “strongly” disagrees and believes woman should have a constitutional right “to make the most intimate, most difficult in many cases, decisions about her health care that one can imagine.”
“I will defend Roe v. Wade, and I will defend women’s rights to make their own health care decisions,” Clinton said. “We have come too far to have that turned back now. And indeed, [Trump] said women should be punished, that 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.”
Most Americans ― more than six in 10, according to the most recent Pew poll ― oppose overturning Roe v. Wade. Before Roe, an estimated 1.2 million pregnant women a year in the U.S. resorted to dangerous back-alley abortions or visited unlicensed providers. Thousands of women ended up in hospitals each year with severe complications related to illegal abortions, and hundreds of them died each year.
While the 1973 Supreme Court decision prevents states from banning abortion outright, it has not stopped some state legislatures from passing an unprecedented wave of restrictions on the procedure in recent years that have shut down dozens of abortion clinics.
Trump said earlier this year that if abortion were illegal, women should “face some sort of punishment” for having one. When Clinton criticized him for that comment in the debate Wednesday night, Trump fired back with the misleading claim that Clinton supports abortions “on the final day” of pregnancy.
“If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother,” Trump said. “Just prior to the birth of the baby. You can say that that’s OK, and Hillary can say that that’s OK, but it’s not OK with me.”
In fact, Clinton has said she would support a ban on late-term abortions as long as there was an exception for cases involving the life or health of the mother. Abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy are very rare, and many of the women who opt to have the procedure so late in a pregnancy do so after discovering a severe medical issue.
“The kinds of cases that stall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make,” Clinton said. “I have met with women who have, toward the end of their pregnancy, gotten 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,” she said.
Trump actually was shunned by many in the anti-abortion community for much of the GOP primary because he used to call himself “pro-choice” and a supporter of a woman’s right to abortion access. But he has since changed his stance, and Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards called Trump’s “deeply concerning” Wednesday night.
“I think he’s a total political opportunist,” Richards told The Huffington Post after the debate. “It is very hard to say what Donald Trump believes in other than his own self worth. But he chose a running mate in Mike Pence who spent his entire political career trying to end access to Planned Parenthood, trying to end access to safe and legal abortion in America, so I think we’re going to have to take him at his word.”
Amanda Terkel contributed reporting from Las Vegas.
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Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.