Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were asked about women at Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate. A couple of times, actually.
First, PBS Newshour co-anchor and moderator Judy Woodruff, noting Sanders’ lead among women in New Hampshire, asked Clinton: “What are women missing about you?”
Clinton responded, gamely, that she had spent her entire adult life working to help empower women to “make their own choices, even if that choice is not to vote for me.”
Sanders, in a follow up, pivoted to his record on reproductive health. It was, some watching at home may have thought, the moment for both candidates to say the word that has yet to be uttered during a debate: abortion.
Instead, he said this:
I am very proud, if my memory is not correct—I think I am—that I have a lifetime—and I’ve been in Congress a few years—a lifetime 100 percent pro-choice voting record. I am very proud that over the years we have had the support in my state of Vermont from very significant majorities of women.
Clinton, in her own follow up, had the same opportunity to bring the issue of abortion to the stage. But this is what she said:
And I appreciate greatly Senator Sanders’ voting record. And I was very proud to get the endorsement of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, because I’ve been a leader on these issues. I have gone time and time again to take on the vested interests who would keep women’s health care decisions the province of the government instead of women ourselves.
Sanders followed with this:
Let me concur with the secretary, no question women’s rights are under fierce attack all over this country. And I will tell you something that really galls me… All over this country we have Republican candidates for president saying we hate the government. Government is the enemy…
But, by the way, when it comes to a woman having to make a very personal choice, ah, in that case, my Republican colleagues love the government and want the government to make that choice for every woman in America.
I edited that last part down. But, all told, we have the two Democratic presidential candidates using 252 words to make a statement that could have been made in 12 words:
Abortion rights are under attack in this country. I will defend them.
Like I’ve said before, the Republican presidential contenders have had no problem saying “abortion” in front of primetime audiences. As state-level restrictions pile up, as the country’s most restrictive abortion ban is about to have its day in court, as the leading Republican candidates argue whether or not women should be allowed to terminate pregnancies in order to save their lives, Clinton’s and Sanders’ word-smithing about “choice” rings increasingly hollow.