Florida Sen. Marco Rubio faced questions about his stance on abortion during Saturday night’s debate, and in his answer he turned to criticizing Hillary Clinton and Democrats for what he called “extremist” positions on the issue.
“Why doesn’t the media ask why Hillary Clinton believes that all abortions should be legal?” Rubio asked. “On abortion, they are the extremists,” he added, referring to Democrats.
He said that Democrats have not fielded any questions about abortion during their debates and said that Clinton supports partial birth abortion, which he has described as a “gruesome procedure.”
This is an area where Rubio has often hit Clinton. He used this same line of attack earlier this week while on the campaign trail, also telling voters in New Hampshire Thursday that Clinton supports abortion on the day a child is expected to be born.
“She believes there should be no such thing as an illegal abortion -- even on the due date,” CNN reported him saying in comments that he closely echoed during the debate.
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) February 7, 2016
Clinton is a staunch defender of abortion rights and has said in the past that she believes partial birth abortions might be necessary in cases where the life of the mother is at risk. Both she and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the other Democratic presidential candidate, are protective of abortion rights, but they have not discussed abortion or women’s health care much in their debates.
Some viewers on social media have noted this, often calling for the Democrats to talk about social issues, particularly in response to the very different views held by most of the Republican field.
Rubio has said he does not support exceptions to his anti-abortion stance, even in cases of rape, incest or risk to the life of the mother. This is a change from Rubio's position on abortion in the past, when he co-sponsored a 2013 bill that would have allowed for these types of exceptions. However, now that he is running for president, he has been much more firm on the topic.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has criticized Rubio on abortion in the past, saying that some Americans will likely have a problem with the no-exception rule, and he repeated that concern in the New Hampshire debate. "I believe there should be exceptions, rape incest and life of the mother,” Bush said. “That’s the sweet spot for a Republican nominee.”
Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie both said they believe in exceptions for cases of rape, incest and life of the mother. By the end of the discussion, Rubio said he would be willing to consider an exception for life of the mother because he is pro-life. In a big moment, he added that he would “rather lose an election, than be wrong on the issue of life.”
Rubio’s comments on abortion received some of the biggest applause of the night. The Florida senator was hoping to have a big night to capitalize on the momentum he has built after a strong third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses. He has recently shot up in New Hampshire polls, and will likely try to use his performance in the Saturday debate to appeal to Granite State voters ahead of the primary there on Tuesday.