Hillary Clinton Says Overturning Roe Would "Turn Back the Clock" in New Interview with Norah O'Donnell

Photo credit: CBS News/ Adam Verdugo
Photo credit: CBS News/ Adam Verdugo

When a leaked draft opinion revealing that the Supreme Court is poised to vote to overturn Roe v. Wade broke on Politico Monday night, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted her initial reaction, calling the decision "an utter disgrace."

“Not surprising. But still outrageous,” she wrote on Twitter. “This decision is a direct assault on the dignity, rights, & lives of women, not to mention decades of settled law. It will kill and subjugate women even as a vast majority of Americans think abortion should be legal. What an utter disgrace.”

This evening, Secretary Clinton expands on her thoughts in a sit-down interview with Norah O’Donnell, the anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News.

“This is about controlling women,” Secretary Clinton says in an exclusive first look at the conversation shared with Town & Country. “This is about turning the clock back on half the population of our country. This is about sending a very strong message that, ‘We're in charge, even though we don't represent the majority of America.’”

During the interview, which also features Vital Voices President and CEO Alyse Nelson (pictured above alongside Clinton and O'Donnell), the former Secretary of State calls overturning Roe v. Wade “a snatching back of women's rights and progress.”

“She said it was the first time that any Supreme Court has, in her words, ‘literally taken a right away.’ She called it ‘a direct assault on women,’ O'Donnell tells T&C.

“She accused these conservative justices who have allegedly voted in favor of this Alito majority opinion of trying to turn back the clock on not just women, but on other groups of Americans. And she was specifically referring to LGBTQ Americans. She said that this decision could now in her words ‘threaten gay marriage and it could threaten the right to contraception.’”

During tonight's broadcast, Clinton also comments on how President Joe Biden is handling the situation.

“I think President Biden came out and made a very strong statement about how extreme this opinion is. And I think there are things that that he can certainly try to do using whatever levers of power through the federal government he has. But if the court says, ‘This is all now up to the states,’ he's very limited,” Clinton says.

“I would add this: ask yourself what are these people actually trying to achieve? If the goal were healthy, happy children, then why won't they expand health care?” Clinton continues.

“Why won't they make sure that in a state like Texas, which has the highest maternal mortality rate in our country, equivalent to underdeveloped nations, they won't expand Medicaid so that women who are literally pregnant, wanting to carry their child to term, will get the health care they need? Why wouldn't they support childcare? So if you're going to make women, at the cost of their lives, their health, their futures, their children, why wouldn't you have childcare? Why wouldn't you have paid leave? Why wouldn't you say, ‘All right, we may have an extreme position about abortion. But we're gonna go to the ends of our efforts to make sure that every woman has a safe pregnancy and delivery, and that every child is going to be given the kind of start in life with health and good quality childcare and education that will enable that child to make the most of his or her life.’ That's not who these people are.”

Below, O'Donnell speaks exclusively with Town & Country about tonight's interview with Secretary Clinton.

How did you prepare for this interview with Secretary Clinton?

Like everybody, we were shocked by the unprecedented leak on Monday from the Supreme Court of this draft opinion. We pivoted quickly as a show—it helps that we're here in Washington—and we decided, “You know what? We're going to anchor the evening show from just outside the Supreme Court.” You could hear the protests, you could hear the shouting. We could see the thousands of people that turned up who wanted their voices heard.

Anytime you sit down with a notable figure or former presidential candidate, there's a lot of preparation involved. And she, of course, is a Yale educated lawyer. So I knew not only she would understand the politics of it, but I also wanted to hear her legal opinion about this draft opinion. This is one of the strongest responses I've ever heard from Secretary Clinton, and we just put out a clip on social media and we'll have more of it tonight.

Why was it important for you to speak to Secretary Clinton in this moment?

Because your vote matters no matter what your political party. In 2016, this was a huge issue. In the debate that Chris Wallace moderated, Trump says, “I just need two or three justices and we can overturn Roe v. Wade.” He explicitly said it.

This is the fulfillment of a campaign promise. And I asked Secretary Clinton, “Were you surprised that it came so quickly?” And you'll see what she said tonight on the Evening News. So if you are against abortion rights, your vote mattered for Trump. You got what you wanted; if you support abortion rights, the fact that your candidate didn't win also has consequences. Your vote matters. And I think this is gonna be a huge flashpoint in the midterm elections.

As the anchor and managing editor of the show, what are you thinking about in how you cover the the news around the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade right now?

Our show is about covering the headlines and then doing the stories the capture people's hearts. This is a political story where there are passionate views on both sides of the aisle. People who support abortion rights are very, very passionate. People who oppose abortion rights are extremely passionate and have been working for almost five decades to, in their words, “Stick up for the rights of unborn children.” So what we try and do is make sure that we capture how this debate is happening across America—and at the same time provide the legal analysis about what this really means.

Photo credit: ADAM VERDUGO
Photo credit: ADAM VERDUGO

When there is so much news happening, how do you think about prioritizing stories for your show?

It's one of the biggest challenges that we face every day: how do we contextualize the news? What I think makes the CBS Evening News more important than ever is that in a half an hour, you are able to come to a program that hundreds of people are carefully putting together every night and making sure that it's fact checked, there's a standards team behind it, that we're fair. Because these stories are just too important. There's just too much at stake.

I think a lot about Walter Cronkite, who held this job for two decades and was known as “the most trusted man in America.” And he said, “Journalism is what we need to make democracy work.” So the journalism that we do every night is about trying to help people further understand these complex issues. To go in depth, not to just skate across the headlines or to just allow people to voice their opinions. We're about actually contextualizing the news, giving detailed analysis, explaining what it may mean, and trying to go a little deeper than people see in the headlines on their phones or on a social media app.

You received an award last night for your work. What does it mean to you to be honored by the National Press Foundation at this moment?

I'm incredibly humbled by the recognition by the National Press Foundation and to be in the company of other people who have won that award, like Bob Schieffer and Judy Woodruff and Tim Russert, 60 Minutes. I'm very humbled to be in that company.

But it really is a recognition of the work of everybody here on the CBS Evening News. I'm honestly just a small part of this organization. You get to see my face, but most of the work is done by this incredible team at CBS. Making television is actually quite time consuming and requires a lot of work and the type of broadcast that we do, the way we curate and edit, it takes a lot of people. That's part of the reason I wanted to dedicate the award last night to someone that we lost recently within CBS News: our Director of Logistics, Mike Hopkins, Because this is the ultimate team sport, broadcast television.

Speaking of journalism, this is a significant moment in our country's history, for the Supreme Court, and for women, but it's also a moment in journalism. The Politico story is the kind of scoop that doesn't come around very often.

This is an unprecedented leak, and it is one that is potentially destructive to the integrity of the Supreme Court. That is why law enforcement is involved and why it really sent shock waves through Washington. This just doesn't happen. And there are lots of questions about who did it and what motivated them to do it.

It is also important to take a look back at history. I was talking to Jan Crawford, who is our brilliant chief legal correspondent, who covers the Supreme Court, and is really, I think the premier Supreme Court correspondent and journalist out there today. She reminded me that in 1992, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, that Lindquist had circulated a majority opinion. It was believed that it would not pass, and Justice Kennedy changed his vote at the last moment. So that's why we've been very careful in calling it the draft opinion.

And while it appears, based on the oral arguments that were heard previously, that the Supreme Court will strike down Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, there has not been a final decision, and it will be interesting to see what happens or if anything changes in the next couple months.

O'Donnell's full interview with Secretary Clinton airs tonight on CBS Evening News at 6:30 p.m.

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