By Kurt Jensen
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON – The final debate between the presidential nominees before Election Day featured testy exchanges about abortion, immigration and gun control.
The issues were addressed by Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during the Oct. 19 debate in Las Vegas.
Trump restated his promise to nominate pro-life justices “of a conservative bent” to the Supreme Court, acknowledging that if the court were to repeal Roe v. Wade, “it will go back to the states and the states will then make a determination.”
He also denounced late-term abortions. “If you go with what Hillary is saying,” Trump said, “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. You can say that that’s OK and Hillary can say that that’s OK, but it’s not OK 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. On the final day. And that’s not acceptable,” he said.
In her response to moderator Chris Wallace on the issue, Clinton restated her support of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion virtually on demand, and she pledged continued support for Planned Parenthood.
Official Catholic teaching condemns the intentional killing of the unborn at any time from conception on.
Clinton called Trump’s argument against partial-birth abortion in particular “scare rhetoric,” adding, “This is one of the worst possible choices that any woman and her family has to make. And I do not believe the government should be making it.”
“I’ve been to countries where governments either force women to have abortions like they used to do in China, or forced women to bear children like they used to do in Romania,” she said. “And I can tell you, the government has no business in the decisions that women make with their families in accordance with their faith, with medical advice, and I will stand up for that right.”
Clinton added that if government regulates abortion, it has to be done “with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.” She said that “the kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make.”
In 2003, Congress passed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, and the bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Supreme Court upheld the ban by a 5-4 vote in 2007.
The law prohibits a form of late-term abortion known as “partial-birth,” also referred to as an “intact dilation and extraction.” A live fetus is partially delivered and an incision is made at the base of the skull, through which the brain is removed, allowing for easier delivery of the collapsed head and the rest of the baby’s body.
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, just over 1 percent of all abortions are performed at 21 weeks or later. Eight states already have a ban on abortions after 20 weeks.
The two presidential nominees also addressed the issue of immigration, with Trump repeating his vow to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and saying that as president he would deport those currently in the country without legal permission. He said there would be no path to legalization for them unless they leave the country and then apply to return.
“We’re a country of laws. We either have a border or we don’t,” Trump said. “Now, you can come back in and you can become a citizen, but it’s very unfair — we have millions of people that did it the right way. They’re on line, they’re waiting. … Very unfair that somebody runs across the border, becomes a citizen.”
Clinton said: “I think we are both a nation of immigrants and we are a nation of laws and that we can act accordingly. And that’s why I’m introducing immigration reform within the first hundred days with a path to citizenship. … Now, what I am also arguing is that bringing undocumented immigrants out from the shadows, putting them in the formal economy will be good because then employers can’t exploit them and undercut Americans’ wages.”
On the issue of gun control, Trump pointed to Chicago, “which has the toughest gun laws in the United States,” as his argument against more gun laws. “Probably you could say by far they have more gun violence than any other city. So we have the toughest laws and you have tremendous gun violence.”
Clinton said she supported the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms but supports better background checks for one. “I understand and respect the tradition of gun ownership. It goes back to the founding of our country,” she said. “But I also believe that there can be and must be reasonable regulation.”
In Washington the day after the final Trump-Clinton debate, Priests for Life held a news conference to publicize its comparison of the Republican and Democratic platforms, with an emphasis on what each says about abortion and the appointment of pro-life judges.
“We’re not here as political advocates,” said Father Frank Pavone, the organization’s national director. “We’re here as moral advocates and teachers.”
Father Pavone’s remarks also included a quote from St. John Paul II’s 1995 encyclical “The Gospel of Life,” in which he warned of governments “transformed into a tyrant state, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless members, from the unborn child to the elderly.”
Candidates who support legal abortion, Pavone said, support this “tyrant state,” adding that “pastors need to proclaim this clearly from the pulpit.”
Asked if his remarks were an endorsement of Trump’s strongest language to date about his opposition to late-term abortions, Father Pavone said no.
“Being nonpartisan doesn’t mean that what you’re saying doesn’t lead to a conclusion,” he said. But political endorsements mean “endorsing everything (a candidate) says. That’s the difference between a campaign and the church.”
Copyright ©2016 Catholic News Service/U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.