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Bernie Sanders questioned the media focus on Trump's abortion comments

"To me, this is a serious issue and it is a very serious discussion," Clinton responded

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Hillary Clinton hit Bernie Sanders on Thursday for suggesting her repeated condemnations of Donald Trump’s comments on abortion were a distraction from “a serious discussion about the serious issues.”

Clinton, speaking at State University of New York at Purchase, said she knows the Vermont senator “supports a woman’s right to choose.” But she also questioned his approach to the controversy.

“I want you to hear this because last night, Senator Sanders agreed that Donald Trump’s comments were shameful, but then he said they were a distraction from, and I quote, ‘A serious discussion about the serious issues facing America,’” Clinton said to boos from the crowd. “To me, this is a serious issue and it is a very serious discussion. I know Senator Sanders supports a woman’s right to choose and I also know that Planned Parenthood Action Fund and NARAL endorsed me because I led on this issue.”

During an interview on Wednesday, Trump said there should be “some form of punishment” for women who get abortions if the procedure was outlawed. His campaign scrambled to clean up the statement later in the day, saying that women who obtain abortions are victims and that doctors who perform the service are the ones who should be punished.

Sanders, during his own interview on Wednesday night, was asked a series of questions about Trump’s comments. After disavowing Trump’s statements, Sanders then questioned why the mogul’s comments were dominating the political conversation.

“Because media is what media is today, any stupid, absurd remark made by Donald Trump becomes the story of the week,” Sanders told MSNBC. “Maybe, just maybe, we might want to have a serious discussion about the serious issues facing America.”

Sanders then went on to say that Trump’s other positions – on issues like climate change, the economy and wealth – should also be talked about.

“If we don’t discuss those issues, it creates the climate for people like Donald Trump to do much better than he really has a right to do,” Sanders concluded.

Clinton on Thursday took issue with the idea that abortion does not rise to a comparable level of importance.

“This is a fundamental, constitutional right and we cannot think it is anything other but really serious,” said the former secretary of state.

Michael Briggs, Sanders’ spokesman, responded to Clinton on Thursday by turning fire back against Trump, sidestepping her claim.

“Donald Trump’s statement about punishing women who have abortions is an outrage,” Briggs said. “It is unbelievable that a candidate for president would make such an absurd statement. Sen. Sanders has a 100 percent lifetime voting record defending a woman’s right to choose and will do all that he can to protect and expand that right if elected president.”

Clinton, speaking at the same school where she launched her 2000 Senate bid when she was first lady, was clearly very animated in challenging Sanders, whose campaign has said he will fight hard to win New York’s primary on April 19.

“I’m telling you people – we actually have to do something, not just complain,” Clinton said, a subtle knock on Sanders. She added later that in the Senate, she was “more interested in solving a problem than making a point.”

Shortly into Clinton’s speech, a small group of protesters stood up and yelled, “If she wins, we lose.”

Clinton looked at them and said, “Oh, I know. Bernie people came to say that.”

“I have earned 9 million votes in this election. I have 1 million more votes than Donald Trump and I have 2.5 million more votes than Senator Sanders,” Clinton said to cheers as the protesters were escorted out.

In a nod, however, to the fact that she will need Sanders’ supporters if she wins the Democratic nomination, Clinton closed her riff by urging unity.

“We have got to unite,” Clinton said. “When this primary contest is over, we have to unite and make sure we have a Democrat in the White House.”