WASHINGTON, DC (CNA/EWTN News) - In the final presidential debate on Wednesday, the major party candidates were pressed to explain their positions on abortion. Hillary Clinton defended her earlier support of partial-birth abortion, while Donald Trump reiterated the assertion that he is pro-life.
"I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life [Supreme Court] justices," Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, stated at the debate.
Clinton, the Democratic presidential candidate, said about mothers' decisions to have abortions, "I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions."
Trump and Clinton debated for the final time on Wednesday evening at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. They answered questions from debate moderator Chris Wallace, anchor of "Fox News Sunday," on topics including abortion, the Supreme Court, foreign policy, and health care.
The next president will appoint at least one justice to the Supreme Court. Early in the debate, Wallace pressed Trump on if, as president, he would want the Court to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Court's 1973 decision that declared a woman's "right" to an abortion existing under her right to privacy.
Trump said he would appoint pro-life justices, but stopped short of saying he wanted the Court to overturn the Roe decision. "If that would happen, because I am pro-life and I will be appointing pro-life justices," he said, "it [the legality of abortion] will go back to the individual states."
Clinton, for her part, declared her strong support for Roe and also for Planned Parenthood, the "reproductive health care" organization that is the nation's largest abortion provider.
"So many states are putting very stringent regulations on women that block them from exercising their choices 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," she said. Planned Parenthood does not in fact provide cancer screenings, however, only referrals for screenings.
Wallace followed up by asking Clinton about partial-birth abortion: "You have been quoted as saying the fetus has no constitutional rights. You also voted against a ban on late-term partial-birth abortions. Why?"
Clinton defended her vote. "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," she answered. "And when I voted as a senator, I did not think that that was the case."
Trump then pressed Clinton on the issue of late-term abortion.
"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," he said. "Now you can say that that's okay, and Hillary can say that that's okay, but it's not okay with me."
Clinton disputed that description, dismissing it as "scare rhetoric," but did not provide her own description of the procedure. Instead, she insisted that, for pregnant mothers, the decision to abort is "one of the worst possible choices" they could make, "and I do not believe the government should be making it."
Abortion has been a contentious topic in this year's campaign. Clinton has been a long-time staunch supporter of abortion. Trump has previously praised Planned Parenthood doing "very good work" for women and defended partial-birth abortion. During this campaign, however, he said he has had a change of heart and is now pro-life. He says he would support defunding Planned Parenthood of federal tax dollars.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life group Susan B. Anthony List and leader of the Trump campaign's pro-life coalition, said that "Clinton's position on abortion is wildly out of step with the majority of Americans who support a compassionate limit on abortion after five months and who do not want their tax dollars used to pay for abortion on-demand."
In her defense of legal abortion, Clinton also referenced her international travels as Secretary of State insist that government should not involve itself in a woman's decision about her pregnancy.
She said that "I've been to countries where governments either forced women to have abortions, like they used to do in China, or forced women to bear children like they used to do in Romania."
However, one human rights advocate - Reggie Littlejohn, president of Women's Rights Without Frontiers - strongly contested Clinton's claim that China "used to" mandate forced abortions, saying that their forced family planning policy still exists and that Clinton's claim was "untrue and deeply disappointing."
For decades, the Chinese Communist government had a mandatory one-child-per-family policy. Women found to be pregnant without a permit would be turned into to local authorities by their neighbors and would be forced to have abortions and be sterilized. As many families chose to have only a male child, a serious gender imbalance has resulted in China.
The Chinese government announced last year that it would allow families to have two children.
However, the forced abortions and pregnancy screenings continue, Littlejohn insisted. "Women of child-bearing age" undergo four pregnancy screenings per year, and married women cannot have more than two children, while single women cannot have any children, she said.
Although women who are illegally pregnant may be able to pay a fine instead of having an abortion, women who "cannot pay the fine - which can be as much as ten times her annual salary" must have an abortion. "Forced abortion, therefore, continues under the Two-Child Policy," Littlejohn insisted.
"The Chinese Communist Party has not agreed to get out of the bedrooms of the Chinese people, and Presidential candidates should not be stating or implying that they have," she said. "We need to keep the international pressure on the Chinese Communist Party until all coercive population control is eradicated."
The debate also covered other topics, including immigration, the second amendment and ISIS.
At one point, Trump was asked by Wallace if, in the scenario he lost the election, he would concede it, given the country's tradition of a "peaceful transition of power."
Trump did not say he would concede if he lost. "I will tell you at the time. I'll keep you in suspense," he said.