Duckworth, Walsh agree on foreign policy, differ on abortion | WBEZ
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Duckworth, Walsh agree on foreign policy, differ on abortion in final debate

The candidates in one of Illinois’ most contentious congressional races struck a more civil note during a televised debate Thursday night, finding rare areas of agreement on foreign policy and defense issues.

But it was incumbent 8th District Republican Congressman Joe Walsh's comments that abortion is never necessary to save the life or health of a mother that have emerged as the headline-grabbing issue Friday.

The kerfuffle stemmed from a debate aired Thursday on WTTW-TV between Walsh, a Tea Party favorite, and Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran.

The moderator asked Walsh to clarify his position on abortion, which has been the subject of recent attack ads against the congressman.

“I’m pro-life without exception,” Walsh said. “Understand, though, when we talk about exceptions, we talk about rape, incest, health of a woman and life of the woman. Life of the woman is not an exception.

During a post-debate press conference, Walsh was asked by a reporter to clarify if a woman should be allowed to have an abortion if her life is at risk.

Walsh responded that “there’s no such exception.”

“With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance," Walsh said. “This is – this is an issue that opponents of life throw out there to make us look unreasonable. There’s no such exception as life of the mother. And as far as health of the mother – same thing, with advances in science and technology, there’s – health of the mother has been, has become a tool for abortions any time under any reason.”

During the debate, Duckworth described her abortion stance as “pro-choice, without restriction.”

Walsh's comments drew national media attention Friday morning, and a rebuttal from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which released a statement Friday saying "abortions are necessary in a number of circumstances to save the life of a woman or to preserve her health." More than 600 women in the U.S. die each year due to childbirth and pregnancy complications - a number that would be higher if abortions were not available, according to the statement.

The controversial comments came out of a comparatively sedate debate between the two candidates in one of the highest-profile congressional races in the country. Walsh and Duckworth even started off praising each other – at the prompting of moderator Eddie Arruza.

“I think that Mr. Walsh loves this country. I think he loves this country as much as any of us do and that … that’ll go a long way toward serving the people of this country and the people of the district,” Duckworth said.

For his part, Walsh called Duckworth’s sense of duty “incredibly noble.” Duckworth, who spent time working in veterans affairs at the state and federal levels, was a helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in a crash during the Iraq war.

The opening compliments set a markedly different tone than the candidates’ last debate, which was a rowdy live event punctuated by boos, cheers and jeers from a crowd of about 1,000 people. The race has also been a magnet for super PACs, who have been spending millions of dollars to flood the airwaves with negative ads about both candidates.

But Thursday, Duckworth and Walsh were able to find common ground on some foreign policy and military issues.

Both agreed the U.S. should reserve the right to use military action against Iran.

“That would be the last option we’d have to use, but we’d have it ready to use,” Walsh said.

“ I think we stand with Israel and we do not let Iran develop a nuclear weapon,” Duckworth added a moment later. “I think the military option should be on the table.”

Both also agreed on cutting military spending as a way to help trim the national deficit. Walsh suggested closing underused bases overseas and getting rid of outdated weapons systems, while Duckworth suggested cancelling plans to buy new F-35 fighter jets, which she said could save $385 billion.

“We already dominate the skies,” Duckworth said. “Our pilots can kick any other [country’s pilots'] butts. We don’t need it right now.”

But the pair clashed when it came to social issues. Walsh said he supported a federal law defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, while Duckworth said she opposed it.

This was the pair’s last debate before the Nov. 6 election.

You can listen to the abortion-related exchanges, during both the debate and during Walsh's post-debate press conference, by clicking below.

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