The Campaign

3 Things Feminists Learned at Last Night’s Debate

Debate season came to a close last night at the third presidential debate, wherein Hillary Clinton shined on and Donald Trump said “wrong” out of turn a lot. Also, there was a short conversation about who was a puppet, that was fun!

via CNN
via CNN

There was a lot to take away from the final debate — Hillary and Trump outlined vastly different policy plans and political philosophies on social issues, the economy, and foreign affairs — but these five lessons should be what feminists tuck in their pockets on the way to the polls.

#1: Donald Trump Doesn’t Know What An Abortion Is (But Hillary Clinton Does)

The debate kicked off with a question related to the Supreme Court — it echoed back to the question we heard the candidates sound off on in the last debate, but also added in a question about whether each candidate thought the Constitution was a “living document” or not. After Trump dissed Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the nerve) in his response, the moderator swung back around with a specific follow-up about the SCOTUS and Roe, centering late-term abortions. Trump reiterated that his justices would be anti-choice (among other things), which led to a back-and-forth between him and Hillary about a woman’s right to choose.

In that back-and-forth, one thing — aside from Trump’s flawed and problematic view on this pivotal issue — became clear.

Donald Trump doesn’t actually know what an abortion is.

Trump: I think it’s terrible 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 just prior to the birth of the baby.

Now, you can say that that’s okay, and Hillary can say that that’s okay, but it’s not okay with me. Because based on what she’s saying and based on where she’s going and where she’s been, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb in the ninth month, only the final day. And that’s not acceptable.

Clinton: Well, that is not what happens in these cases. And using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate.

Abortion in the later months of pregnancy is often made because of discoveries related to the health of a fetus. Abnormalities may make it so that a baby will only live a few hours once delivered, or could even result in a stillbirth. That alone is important to remember during these kinds of conversations — but so is the actual process of an abortion in the third trimester. Nobody’s “ripping babies out of wombs,” y’all. Let’s just make that clear.

Clinton also called out Trump’s “scare rhetoric,” and indeed, Trump’s graphic description of indiscriminate late-term abortion is inaccurate.

The majority of abortions (88 percent) take place within the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy. In fact, only 1.2 percent of all abortions in the U.S. take place after 20 weeks of gestation, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

“Abortion may happen after 20 weeks for a variety of reasons including undiagnosed pregnancy, medical complications, or severe fetal abnormality,” Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice explains. “Some women may not have been able to obtain an earlier abortion due to a lack of money, difficulty finding a provider, or delays caused by parental consent or waiting requirements.” (A 2011 study paints a more in depth look at women who obtain second-term abortions; many of them were younger and had a lower income.)

The term Trump used – “partial birth abortion” – is a political concept, not a medical one, coined by anti-abortion (or “pro-life”) activists. (In acontroversial 2007 ruling, the Supreme Court upheld Congress’s 2003 law, the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.)

After hearing Trump use this phrase during the debate, obstetrician Dr. Jen Gunter wrote several tweets explaining that there is no such thing as a partial birth abortion.

As Vox reports, Gunter went on to explain in her tweets that “sometimes obstetricians will induce pregnancy at 36 weeks due to anencephaly (when a major portion of the brain is missing and the baby cannot survive). But that is not an abortion. It is induced labor to deliver a baby that will not live.”

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton truly became a beacon of feminist goodness when asked about her stance on abortion and reproductive rights. She answered eloquently and articulately, spanning the issues of funding for Planned Parenthood, supporting women in making their own choices, and the importance of Roe.

Clinton: I strongly support Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a constitutional right to a woman to make the most intimate, most difficult in many cases decisions about her health care that one can imagine. And in this case it’s not only about Roe v. Wade. It is about what’s happening right now in America. So many states are putting very stringent regulations on women that block them from exercising that choice to the extent that they are defunding Planned Parenthood, which, of course, provides all kinds of cancer screenings and other benefits for women in our country.

Donald has said he’s in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood. He even supported shutting the government down to defund Planned Parenthood. I will defend Planned Parenthood. I will defend Roe v. Wade, and I will defend women’s rights to make their own health care decisions.

Wallace: Secretary —

Clinton: And we’ve come too far to have that turn back now. Indeed, he 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.

Wallace: I’m going to give you a chance to respond, but I want to ask you, Secretary Clinton, how far you believe the right to abortion goes. You have been quoted as saying that the fetus has no constitutional rights. You also voted against a ban on late-term partial-birth abortions. Why?

Clinton: Because Roe v. Wade very clearly sets out that there can be regulations on abortion so long as the life and the health of the mother are taken into account. And when I voted as a senator, I did not think that that was the case. The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make. I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get 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. So you can regulate if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.

Daily Kos called her response “the single most complete defense of Roe v. Wade in recent memory.” I call it “the moment we’ve all been waiting for.” A woman running for president stood on a debate stage and broke down why Roe matters and will always matter. 


#2: Donald Trump Doesn’t Believe Survivors

In the short span of time between the second and third debate, more and more accusations and revelations related to Donald Trump’s history of sexual assault and harassment came to light.

Former contestants on his show are joining the call of feminist groups for MGM to #ReleaseTheTapes of cut footage from The Apprentice that shows him harassing them on-set. Women from his past came forward to say that they were touched inappropriately by him. Even more leaked footage from interviews from days past revealed that Trump’s ideas about how to treat women verge on sexual assault. (Note: This all went down in nine days. Nine days.)

When the latest claims of Trump assaulting and harassing women came up during the debate, however, he pulled the same move as last time: Absolving himself of all accountability, refusing to apologize, and going to great lengths to discredit survivors. This time, though, he didn’t just revert to bringing up Bill Clinton in a debate with Hillary Clinton. This time, he straight-up blamed Hillary’s campaign for the accusations.

Wallace: All right. We are going to get to foreign hot spots in a few moments. But the next segment is fitness to be president of the United States. Mr. Trump, at the last debate you said your talk about grabbing women was just that, talk, and that you had never actually done it. And since then, as we all know, nine women have come forward and said you either groped them or kissed them without their consent. Why would so many different women from so many different circumstances over so many different years, why would they all in this last couple of weeks make up — you deny this. Why would they all make up these stories. And since this is a question for both of you, secretary Clinton, Mr. Trump says what your husband did and that you defended was even worse. Mr. Trump, you go first.

Trump: Well, first of all, those stories have been largely debunked. Those people, I don’t know those people. I have a feeling how they came. I believe it was her campaign that did it. Just like if you look at what came out today on the clips where I was wondering what happened with my rally in Chicago and other rallies where we had such violence. She is the one — and Obama — that caused the violence. They hired people. They paid them $1500 and they’re on tape saying be violent, cause fights, do bad things. I would say the only way, because the stories are all totally false. I have to say that. And I didn’t even apologize to my wife who is sitting right here because I didn’t do anything. I didn’t know any of these women. I didn’t see these women. These women, the woman on the plane, I think they want either fame or her campaign did it. And I think it’s her campaign. When I saw what they did, which is a criminal act, by the way, where they’re telling people to go out and start fistfights and start violence, I tell you what, in particular in Chicago, people were hurt and people could have been killed in that riot.

And that was now all on tape started by her. I believe, Chris, that she got these people to step forward. If it wasn’t, they get their ten minutes of fame. But they were all totally — it was all fiction. It was lies and it was fiction.

Wallace: Secretary Clinton?

Clinton: Well, at the last debate we heard Donald talking about what he did to women. And after that a number of women have come forward saying that’s exactly what he did to them. Now what was his response? Well, he held a number of big rallies where he said that he could not possibly have done those things to those women because they were not attractive enough for —

Trump: I did not say that. I did not say that.

Clinton: In fact, he went on to say —

Wallace: Sir, her two minutes.

Trump: I did not say that.

Wallace: Her two minutes.

Clinton: He went on to say look at her. I don’t think so. About another woman, he said that wouldn’t be my first choice. He attacked the woman reporter writing the story, called her disgusting as he has called a number of women during this campaign. Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger. He goes after their dignity, their self-worth, and I don’t think there is a woman anywhere who doesn’t know what that feels like.

So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts towards women. That’s who Donald is. I think it’s really up to all of us to demonstrate who we are and who our country is and to stand up and be very clear about what we expect from our next president, how we want to bring our country together where we don’t want to have the kind of pitting of people one against the other, where instead we celebrate our diversity, we lift people up.

And we make our country even greater. America is great because America is good. And it really is up to all of us to make that true, now and in the future in particular for our children and our grandchildren.

#3: Hillary is a Nasty Woman and She is All Of Us

In the closing moments of the debate, Hillary threw some shade on Donald while speaking about the Affordable Care Act for having paid no taxes. As she finished her response to the question, Trump spoke directly into his mic and said “such a nasty woman.”

It became a rallying cry. Women across the Internet claimed it as their own.

And it was a final reminder, after three debates and a long year-and-a-half of Trump’s campaign, of the sexism that has shaped his political rise.

Women will remember that moment. And they’ll laugh about it all the way to the polls.

Carmen Rios

Carmen is a writer, revolutionary, and social media guru living the dream in Los Angeles. She coordinates blog content for the She Wins campaign and is also the Digital Editor at Ms., Co-Founder and Managing Editor at Argot Magazine, Feminism Editor and Community Director at Autostraddle, and a Contributor at Everyday Feminism.