Wednesday, MSNBC's Rachel Maddow talked with Democratic presidential party hopeful, Sen. Bernie Sanders, in Madison, Wisconsin. She mentioned Republican contender Donald Trump's recent remark that "women should be punished for having an abortion". Sanders reply, in part, was that it was a "stupid remark". Sanders also said that the idea of punishing a woman for having an abortion was "incomprehensible".
Predictably, Sanders' remark has been construed by Clinton as having been dismissive of a woman's right to choose. Sanders' remarks to Rachel Maddow in full as well as his history on the issue ought to be brought into play.
Below is Sander's reply (edited by me for brevity), but you can read the entire transcript here if you wish. You also could watch this video of the exchange which will indicate very well that the emphasis in Sander's remarks was on Trump's incomprehensible stupidity as well as on American media's "story of the week", as Sanders put it, approach to reporting.
Sanders' well-understandable complaint is that Trump is setting the parameters for questioning, discussion, and debate, media is playing right into his hands, and the American public is suffering because of it.
Here is what actually happened in that exchange with Maddow.
Sanders said, "But to punish a woman for having an abortion is beyond comprehension. . . . I don't know what world this person [Trump] lives in. So obviously, from my perspective, and if elected president, I will do everything that I can to allow women to make that choice and have access to clinics all over this country so that if they choose to have an abortion, they will be able to do so. The idea of punishing a woman, that is just, you know, beyond comprehension. . . .
You know, you mentioned a moment ago, Rachel, that the media is paying attention to Donald Trump.
Duh? No kidding. Once again, every stupid remark will be broadcast, you know, for the next five days.
But because media is what media is today, any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week. Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America. Donald Trump will not look quite so interesting in that context.
MADDOW: Are you suggesting, though, that the media shouldn't be focusing on his call to potentially jail women who have abortions? Because that's another stupid --
SANDERS: I am saying that every day he comes up with another stupid remark, absurd remark, of course it should be mentioned. But so should Trump's overall positions. . . . All that I'm saying is that Trump is nobody's fool. He knows how to manipulate the media and you say an absurd thing and the media is all over it."
Maddow later asked the other Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Hillary Clinton, whether Sanders' remark was "just another Donald Trump stupid comment".
Clinton replied, "No, absolutely not. I've been on the front lines of the fight to preserve a woman's choice and ability to make these difficult decision, that is why I was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood action fund, that is why I was endorsed by NARAL, I am a leader in trying to make sure that our rights as women are in no way eroded."
Clinton continued, "And to think this is an issue that is not deserving of reaction demonstrates a lack of understanding of how serious this is. It goes to the heart." You can watch a video of the exchange between Maddow and Clinton here.
In my opinion, Clinton either misunderstood the nature of Sanders' remark and Maddow's question or did not want to address it. If you look at the video and look at the transcript, it seems clear to me that Sander's was not reacting to a woman's right to choose as an issue, he was reacting to the absurdity of Trump's remark about "punishing" women and to the absurdity of media's absorption with his every idiotic utterance. Instead, she changed the subject (as I truly might have if I were running for office) to her record, her endorsement by NARAL, and the Republican party's record.
The gist of Clinton's remarks was that Sanders did not fully appreciate the issue.
In sorting through this, it might be helpful to look at Sanders' voting and support record on a woman's right to choose and related issues. Source: OnTheIssues.com.
(1993) Sanders supported the protection of women's reproductive rights
(1997) said women should have the right to choose regardless of income
(1999) voted NO on barring transporting minors to get an abotion
(2000) voted NO on banning partial-birth abortions
(2001) voted NO on banning Family Planning funding in US aid abroad
(2002) voted NO on funding for health providers who don't provide abortion info
(2003) voted NO on banning partial-birth abortion except to save mother's life
(2003) rated 100% by NARAL [Pro Choice America], ostensibly for his pro-choice record
(2005) voted NO on restricting interstate transport of minors to get abortions
(2006) supported emergency contraception for rape victims at all hospitals
(2006) rated 0% by the National Right to Life Committee, ostensibly for his pro-choice stance
(2007) he voted NO on barring Health and Human Services grants to organizations that perform abortions
(2007) supported access to and funding for contraception
(2007) supported providing emergency contraception at military facilities
(2008) voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP [State Children's Health Insurance Program]
(2009) voted NO on restricting UN funding for population control
(2009) focused on preventing unwanted pregnancy, plus emergency contraception
(2011) supported requiring pharmacies to fulfill contraceptive prescriptions
(2013) supported banning anti-abortion limitations on abortion services
(2015) supported access to safe, legal abortions without restrictions
Here is Clinton's voting and support record using the same source:
(2001) Recommended by Emily's List, a group which endorses Democrat women candidates who support right to choose
(2003) Voted NO on banning partial birth abortions except for maternal life
(2003) rated 100% by NARAL, ostensibly for her pro-choice voting record
(2005) voted YES on $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy via education & contraceptives
(2006) voted NO on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions
(2006) sponsored bill providing contraceptives for low-income women
(2006) sponsored bill for emergency contraception for rape victims
(2007) supported providing emergency contraception at military facilities
(2007) supported ensuring access to and funding for contraception
(2008) voted NO on defining unborn child as eligible for SCHIP
(2009) supported focusing on preventing pregnancy, plus emergency contraception
Here is a graphic provided by the Bing Political Index which shows that, on the issue of abortion, Sanders is to the left of Clinton and Dr. Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, is to the left of them both.
Of course, how far to the left each is clearly is debatable depending on how you read the evidence as to who is the stronger pro-choice candidate. If you look at length of years supporting a woman's right to choose, Sanders might look better. If you look at an emphasis on education, Clinton might look better. On this particular issue, they both look good to me. Sanders has what seems to me to be an impeccable record on a woman's right to choose. This should not be overlooked or obscured because during a moment's completely comprehensible frustration, he decided to tell it like it is.