Mary Margaret Olahan, DCNF.
Abortion activists condemned the phrase “safe, legal and rare” following Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s remarks at a Democratic debate, a phrase that stemmed from former President Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary Clinton.
Gabbard, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, touched on abortion at the debate on Oct. 15. Former Planned Parenthood President Leana Wen voiced agreement for Gabbard’s comments, sparking a backlash from abortion activists.
“I agree with Hillary Clinton on one thing, disagree with her on many others, but when she said abortion should be safe, legal and rare, I think she’s correct,” Gabbard said. The Hawaii representative noted she does not support abortions in the third trimester unless the life or severe health consequences of the mother are at risk.
Wen tweeted her support for Gabbard’s words.
“I don’t agree with Tulsi Gabbard on a lot, but do appreciate that she brought up the third rail for Democrats: that abortion should be ‘safe, legal, and rare.’ We should reduce the need for abortions by investing in prevention,” Wen tweeted on Oct. 15.
“Was also courageous Tulsi Gabbard to bring up nuances,” Wen added. “Most Americans hold complex truths: they can both personally oppose abortion & support others’ right to choose; they can both feel uncomfortable about abortion & not want women to die from back-alley procedures.”
Wen also shared an op-ed that she wrote in July after leaving Planned Parenthood following the backlash over her tweet at Gabbard.
“The replies to my tweet about a rational view of abortion as ‘safe, legal & rare’ are why I wrote this op-ed,” Wen said in a tweet. “Pro-choice & progressive movements will lose unless we allow more people to join who do not agree 100% with the most extreme ideology.”
“If we understand reproductive healthcare to be the standard healthcare that it is, then use the language of public health,” Wen added. “Take heart surgery. It’s a procedure that should be available if needed, but prevention is the best medicine. Access is not in conflict with prevention.”
Abortion activists met Wen’s tweets with protests and condemnation.
“This framing is harmful, stigmatizing, and feeds the anti-choice narrative that abortion is inherently bad,” tweeted abortion activist Lauren Rankin. “It’s not. And for someone who used to lead a reproductive health organization, you should know the consequences of that kind of rhetoric.”
“HOW DID YOU GET THAT JOB AND WHY IN THE FUCK DID YOU WANT IT,” tweeted Amelia Bonow, creator of the viral #ShoutYourAbortion tag.
“Abortion isn’t a carbon footprint. It’s healthcare,” tweeted abortion activist Pamela Merritt. “Democrats don’t benefit by pandering to regressive bad actors on the right. This isn’t clever, insightful, or progressive. It’s a 2nd wave solution in search of stigma and oppression to perpetuate.”
But Wen and Gabbard both referenced a phrase Bill Clinton coined and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton formerly used in discussing abortion policy.
“Our vision should be of an America where abortion is safe and legal but rare,” Bill Clinton said while speaking at the White House on Jan. 22, 1993 as he explained the Clinton administration’s attempts to reduce abortions.
The former U.S. president echoed these sentiments during his presidential nomination acceptance speech to delegates at the 1996 Democratic National Convention.
“We respect the individual conscience of every American on the painful issue of abortion but believe as a matter of law that this decision should be left to a woman, her conscience, her doctor and her God,” Bill Clinton said.
“But abortion should not only be safe and legal; it should be rare,” he added.
Bill Clinton echoed this language frequently as president of the U.S. “We have to remind the American people once again that being pro-choice is very different from being pro-abortion,” he told the Congressional Women’s Caucus at the New York Hilton in 1992.
Hillary Clinton has also used the phrase to discuss how abortions should be approached.
“We can support a woman’s right to choose that makes abortions safe, legal and rare and reduces the number of abortions,” Hillary Clinton said on the campaign trail in July 2005.
The former first lady emphasized during her 2008 presidential run, “By rare, I mean rare.”
Hillary Clinton tweaked her language during the 2016 presidential election and said abortion should be “safe and legal.
The Democratic Party has moved increasingly further away from this statement over the years as abortion advocates push for unrestricted abortion access and 2020 presidential candidates embrace progressive positions on abortion.
The Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding for abortions except in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger, became a litmus test for Democratic presidential candidates in 2019 when former Vice President Joe Biden reaffirmed his support for Hyde in June. The former vice president flipped his position in June and said the current culture in the U.S. made it impossible for him to support such an amendment.
Gabbard is the only Democratic presidential candidate to say she would restrict abortion access, but Gabbard only supports restrictions on abortions during the third trimester and also supports removing the Hyde Amendment.
Gabbard and Wen did not respond to requests for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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