By Sarah Ferris - 01/22/16 01:00 PM EST
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie SandersBernie SandersDebate: Hillary must play for millennials, not wait for Trump to lose them Juan Williams: Verdict on big debate will be instantaneous Clinton, Sanders to campaign together in New Hampshire MORE walked back his criticism of Planned Parenthood after he recently said the group was “part of the establishment” that his campaign is trying to fight.
On the eve of the Roe v. Wade anniversary, Sanders said he didn’t intend to insult Planned Parenthood’s abortion-rights activism after he lost the group’s endorsement to front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Clinton, Trump tied nationally Debate: Hillary must play for millennials, not wait for Trump to lose them Poll: Trump, Clinton in close race in Pennsylvania, Colorado MORE — and blamed Clinton's campaign for inflaming the controversy.
“That’s not what I meant,” Sanders said of his comments in an interview with NBC News on Thursday. “We’re a week out in the election, and the Clinton people will try to spin these things.”
When asked if he believed Planned Parenthood was part of the establishment, Sanders said: “No. They aren’t. They’re standing up and fighting the important fights that have to be fought.”
His interview took place one day before the biggest abortion activism day of the year — the anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the annual March for Life through downtown Washington.
Sanders’s earlier "establishment” comments, which took place during an interview with MSNBC, drew fierce criticism. Abortion-rights groups have spent more than a year watching Republicans turn Planned Parenthood into a political football because of undercover videos by their long-time rivals.
The comments quickly morphed into a battle with Planned Parenthood itself.
“It's regrettable and surprising to hear Sen. Sanders describe the very groups that fight on behalf of millions of often marginalized Americans — people who still have to fight for their most basic rights — as representing the ‘establishment,' " Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood’s political arm, said this week.
The Vermont Independent issued a statement on Friday reiterating his support for Planned Parenthood and another group, NARAL, to mark the 43rd year since the landmark Supreme Court case.
“I join with Planned Parenthood, NARAL and all Americans who have been fighting the never-ending attacks on women’s right to choose,” Sanders wrote.