Here's Why Hillary Clinton's Latest Abortion Comment Is Better Than Any Lena Dunham Endorsement

It's no secret that throughout her campaign, Hillary Clinton has struggled to build strong support among younger female Democrats — or at least struggled more than pretty much any pundit would have predicted this time last year. But during Thursday night's Democratic debate in Brooklyn, the former secretary of state did what no endorsement from Lena Dunham or America Ferrera could do by actively bringing women's reproductive rights to the fore. Hillary Clinton made abortion an issue during the debate, even if the moderators hadn't — and with it, Clinton made the case that she was the best candidate for women in a stronger, sharper way than she ever had this election.

Towards the end of the debate, Clinton and Sanders were each asked whether they would withdraw President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, if elected president. Sanders said he would nominate someone who makes it "crystal clear that he or she will vote to overturn Citizens United and make sure that American democracy is not undermined." Cue the applause. It was Sanders at his best, railing against the corporate money sullying politics, the cry that has pretty much driven his revolution — and that has been Clinton's Achilles heel, especially with younger Democrats.

But then Clinton employed a brilliant rhetorical strategy.

You know, there is no doubt that the only people that I would ever appoint to the Supreme Court are people who believe that Roe v. Wade is settled law and Citizens United needs to be overturned.

And I want to say something about this since we're talking about the Supreme Court and what's at stake. We've had eight debates before, this is our ninth. We've not had one question about a woman's right to make her own decisions about reproductive health care, not one question.

And in the meantime we have states, governors doing everything they can to restrict women's rights. We have a presidential candidate by the name of Donald Trump saying that women should be punished. And we are never asked about this.

And to be complete in my concern, Senator Sanders says with respect to Trump it was a distraction. I don't think it's a distraction. It goes to the heart of who we are as women, our rights, our autonomy, our ability to make our own decisions, and we need to be talking about that and defending Planned Parenthood from these outrageous attacks.

Clinton literally changed the debate by bringing in Roe v. Wade. In one fell swoop, Clinton made it into the kind of conversation she wanted to have to convince Democratic voters, especially younger and female ones, that she would protect reproductive rights in a way Sanders wouldn't. Many Sanders supporters have argued that the Vermont senator has a comparable, if not stronger, record on feminism and women's rights. Those who feel the Bern are quick to tout that both he and Clinton have received 100 percent approval ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. Like Clinton, Sanders also has supported the Paycheck Fairness Act and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, all of which help explain why female Democrats feel confident in Sanders. In fact, a USA Today/Rock The Vote poll from March found that millennial women chose Sanders over Clinton 61 to 30 percent.

However, Clinton's comments during Thursday night's debate could be a game-changer for her campaign. Clinton came off stronger than Sanders on reproductive rights — not only by making it seem like Sanders took Trump and his anti-choice comments far too lightly, but even more importantly, by yanking the topic into the debate. It suggested Clinton was listening and paying attention to the #AskAboutAbortion complaints from pro-choice advocates upset that the topic was not being brought up at Democratic debates (but at Republican ones). And as MSNBC's Irin Carmon rightly pointed out on the dearth of abortion questions, "the upshot of the silence at the debates, which arguably command the most voter attention, is that Republicans are defining the contours of the conversation."

Moreover, Clinton's comments displayed a tenacity to break the format and make a bold (OK, boldish) move. Clinton has been criticized for being overly polished and too much of an establishment candidate, but she didn't play by the book when she brought abortion into Thursday's debates. It enabled Clinton to take an extra step beyond her and Sanders' equally strong voting records on abortion rights and provide evidence that she would, in fact, fight harder to protect women's right to choose. And that's the kind of statement that no appearance on Broad City nor Katy Perry concert could achieve.