Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump open debate with sharp exchange on abortion

US presidential debate: In contrast to the fiery personal attacks of the first two debates, Clinton and Trump had an issues-based exchange on abortion, gun rights and immigration to start the 90-minute showdown.

By: Reuters | Las Vegas | Updated: October 20, 2016 9:17 am
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, center, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, take the stage for the third presidential debate at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, N.Y., Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016. Also pictured is moderator Chris Wallace, right. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, center, and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, left, take the stage for the third presidential debate at University of Nevada in Las Vegas, NY on Wednesday. (Source: AP)

Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton clashed on abortion rights on Wednesday as they opened their third and last US presidential debate with a substantive policy discussion on the Supreme Court and the top issues it faces. In contrast to the fiery personal attacks of the first two debates, Clinton and Trump had an issues-based exchange on abortion, gun rights and immigration to start the 90-minute showdown.

Clinton promised to appoint justices who would uphold a woman’s right to abortion laid out in the 1973 Roe vs Wade decision, while Trump promised to appoint what he called “pro-life” justices who would overturn the decision. Under current law, Trump said, “You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.”

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“Honestly, nobody has business doing what I just said, doing that as late as one or two or three or four days prior to birth,” Trump said. Clinton said Trump’s “scare rhetoric is just terribly unfortunate.”

“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,” Clinton said.

Trump said he would appoint a Supreme Court justice who would protect American gun rights. He has said in the past that Clinton wants to “essentially abolish” the Second Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing a right to bear arms.

Clinton said she supports gun rights, but wants additional regulations on guns, citing examples of children being hurt or killed in gun accidents. “I see no conflict between saving people’s lives and defending the Second Amendment.”

NO HANDSHAKE

Clinton and Trump walked straight to their podiums when they were introduced at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, forgoing the traditional handshake as they did at the second debate last week in St. Louis, Missouri.

Trump seeks to reverse his fading momentum in a US election that opinion polls show is tilting away from him. The New York businessman, 70, has been damaged by several accusations he groped women – which he denies – and concerns about his claims the election will be rigged against him.

The debate gave Trump, making his first run for elected office, perhaps his best remaining chance to sway the dwindling number of Americans who are still undecided about their vote in the Nov. 8 election.

Clinton, a 68-year-old former secretary of state, US senator and first lady, leads in national polls and in most of the battleground states where the election will likely be decided. The debate was her opportunity to make a closing argument on why she is best suited to succeed her fellow Democrat, President Barack Obama, in the White House.

Trump’s White House bid has been marked by personal squabbles and controversial comments about immigration and minorities. Most recently, he has urged supporters to patrol polling places in inner cities to prevent voter fraud, and tried to fight off several allegations that he groped women.

Clinton has struggled to get past concerns about transparency raised over her use of a private email server for work communication while she was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.