For Catholics and evangelical Christians who are willing pull the lever for Donald Trump based on upcoming vacancies in the Supreme Court, the Republican candidate provided all the assurances they would likely need early on in his third debate with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The Republican candidate quickly affirmed last night that “the justices that I'm going to appoint will be pro-life. They will have a conservative bent. They will be protecting the Second Amendment.”
Mr. Trump was directly asked by moderate Chris Wallace of Fox News, “Do you want the court, including the justices that you will name, to overturn Roe v. Wade which includes, in fact states, a woman's right to abortion?”
Mr. Trump responded, “If we put another two or perhaps three justices on…. That will happen automatically in my opinion because I am putting pro-life justices on the court.it will go back to the states and the states will then make a determination.”
Mrs. Clinton differed sharply with Mr. Trump on abortion and the kinds of judicial nominees she would be making if elected. “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,” she said. “And in this case is 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.
“I have major disagreements with my opponent about these issues and others that will be before the Supreme Court. But I feel that at this point in our country's history, it is important that we not reverse marriage equality, that we not reverse Roe v. Wade, that we stand up against Citizens United—we stand up for the rights of people in the workplace. That we stand up and basically say—the Supreme Court should represent all of us.”
The candidates also sparred over the issue of late-term abortions, estimated by the Guttmacher Institute at about 1.3 percent of all abortions.“The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make,” said Mrs. Clinton. “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.”
Mr. Trump countered, “I think it's terrible if you go with what Hillary is saying [that] 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.”
Guttmacher reports that 20 states limit abortions after "viability" (which refers to the point when a fetus can survive out of the womb) and 23 states prohibit abortions between 20 and 28 weeks. Seven states and Washington, D.C., have no time restrictions on abortions. In Europe waiting periods and 12- to 24-week limits on abortion are common.
Other issues of particular interest to a Catholic audience also flared up in Wednesday’s debate.
Mr. Trump’s reasserted his position on undocumented migrants and his infamous wall across the border. “We need strong borders,” he said. “Drugs are pouring in through the border. We have no country if we have no border. Hillary wants to give amnesty she wants to have open borders.”
Referring to the Republican candidate’s assertions that if elected he would deport the nation’s undocumented population, Mrs. Clinton said, “I don't want to rip families apart. I don't want to be sending parents away from children. I don't want to see the deportation force that Donald has talked about in action in our country. We have 11 million undocumented people. They have four million American citizen children. Fifteen million people.”
Mr. Trump pointed out that President Obama had already made a significant effort to deport undocumented migrants. In fact, the Obama administration has deported a record 2.5 million people between 2009 and 2015, more than any other president and 23 percent more than his predecessor George W. Bush. That 2.5 million figure does not include the number of people who have "self deported" or were turned away or returned to their home country at the border.
Mrs. Clinton also challenged Mr. Trump on his breezy assessments of the possibility of nuclear proliferation in Saudi Arabia, Japan and other states as “absolutely terrifying.”
On refugees the candidates also sharply differed. Mr. Trump repeated concerns about the inadequacy of vetting procedures for people escaping conflict in the Middle East and laid the blame for the Syria debacle on the Obama administration. “If she [meaning Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State] did nothing, we would be in much better shape.”
He added, “And this is what's caused the great migration where she's taking in tens of thousands of Syrian refugees who probably in many cases—not probably who are definitely in many cases—ISIS aligned and we now have them in our country and wait until you see this is going to be the great Trojan horse and wait until you see what happens in the coming years. Lots of luck Hillary, thanks a lot for doing a great job.”
“I am not going to let anyone into this country who is not vetted,” Mrs. Clinton responded, “who we do not have confidence in. But I am not going to slam the door on women and children. That picture of that little four-year-old boy in Aleppo with the blood coming down his face while he sat in an ambulance is haunting. And so we are going to do very careful, thorough vetting.”
Mr. Trump also repeated denials about the latest allegations of sexual assault in his past, dismissing his accusers as women seeking “their 10 minutes of fame.”
“It was lies and it was fiction,” Mr. Trump said.
Mrs. Clinton said the allegations describe “who Donald is.”
“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 doesn't know what that feels like. So we now know what Donald thinks and what he says and how he acts toward women,” she said.
Climate change is an issue that is high on the international agenda and high among the concerns of the Holy See, but it did not come up in any of the three presidential debates. Daniel Misleh, the executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, commented last night via Twitter: “Very disappointed that no one but red-sweatered Ken Bone asked a question about #climatechange in #PresidentialDebate. Shame on moderators.”