Bernie Sanders' Stance on Maternal Health Issues Is Promising

Over the last year, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has slowly grown to be a serious competitor in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. But how do Sanders' positions on maternal health issues, including reproductive rights, contraception, access to abortion, childbirth, and paid maternity leave stack up to those of challenger former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?

Like Clinton, Senator Sanders is pro-choice, advocates for access to birth control, and supports funding for Planned Parenthood. During his 28 years in Washington, he has been active in co-sponsoring women’s health and right to choose bills and consistently voted down anti-abortion legislation.

In a 2012 op-ed for the Huffington Post, he claimed Republicans are waging a "moral and political" war against women’s rights and that, as president, he would "expand and protect the reproductive rights of women."

"When our country was formed, women were not just second-class citizens. They were third- or fourth-class citizens," Sanders wrote, expounding on his belief that women and mothers must have a voice in the American political system. "... Let [us] understand that when we stand together, we will always win. When men and women stand together for justice, we win."

Sanders’ positions on maternal health issues specifically are equally refreshing. Here, a primer on his stances over the years.

Decrease Out-Of-Pocket Costs

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MIAMI, FL - JUNE 02: Daniela Chavarriaga holds her daughter, Emma Chavarriaga, as pediatrician Jose Rosa-Olivares, M.D. administers a measles vaccination during a visit to the Miami Children's Hospital on June 02, 2014 in Miami, Florida. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced that in the United States they are seeing the most measles cases in 20 years as they warned clinicians, parents and others to watch for and get vaccinated against the potentially deadly virus. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

While not strictly a women’s issue, Sanders’ Medicare for All single-payer healthcare program could better maternal health and wellness by providing universal access to adequate childbirth facilities and pre-natal/post-natal care. According to his campaign website, “today, women have much higher healthcare expenses than men and pay a greater portion of their healthcare costs out of their own pocket.” By “recognizing healthcare as a right, not a privilege,” Sanders wants to decrease out of pockets costs on all health services, including things that are essential to maternal health like hospital fees, fertility specialists, cesarean sections, and genetic tests.

Family Planning

Indonesian doctor Desak Made Putri gives a medical consultation to a HIV positive patient at a clinic in Denpasar on the resort island of Bali, on December 10 2010. AFP PHOTO / SONNY TUMBELAKA (Photo credit should read SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

Wanting to redirect the national conversation on women's reproductive rights away from abortion, Sanders' presidential campaign chooses to focus more on pregnancy prevention, sex education, and the accessibility of contraception. In 2009, he co-sponsored the Prevention First Act, that included grants to states for “family life education.” This bill was aimed at teens to prevent unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and expanded funding for family planning.

As president, the Vermont Senator plans to increase funding for family planning programs like Title X and other initiatives that improve women’s sexual health through education and access to contraceptives.

Planned Parenthood

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LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 22: Pro-choice supporters and members of Planned Parenthood rally to mark the 35th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion, outside the Federal Building January 22, 2008 in the Los Angeles area community of Westwood, California. According to a CNN/Opinion Research survey last October, 36 percent of Americans support legal abortion in most or all circumstances, 40 percent believe abortion should be available in a few circumstances such as to save the mother's life, and 22 percent believe abortion should never be legal. Those numbers remain almost unchanged over the past 15 years. Passions remain high on both sides of the issue. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Although Planned Parenthood endorsed Hillary Clinton for the Democratic primary, they've explained on their website that “when it comes to issues like birth control, abortion, and access to services at Planned Parenthood, both leading Democratic candidates for president have great records, and would make a great president."

The presidential hopeful plans on expanding, not cutting, funding for Planned Parenthood and when Republican senators moved to defund PP this past Summer, Sanders denounced the action in a statement:

The attempt by Senate Republicans to cut off support for Planned Parenthood is an attack on women's health. Stripping funding for Planned Parenthood would punish the 2.7 million Americans, especially low-income women, who rely on its clinics for affordable, quality health care services including cancer prevention, STI and HIV testing and general primary health care services.

A Woman's Right To Choose

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WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 2: Pro-choice advocates rally outside of the Supreme Court, March 2, 2016 in Washington, DC. On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt case, where the justices will consider a Texas law requiring that clinic doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals and that clinics upgrade their facilities to standards similar to hospitals. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sen. Sanders wants to use the momentum of the last 50 years to continue to push women’s rights forward, particularly when it comes to access to safe, legal abortions. "We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed," he wrote in the aforementioned Huffington post op-ed. "The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family, and physician to make, not the government."

Sanders has a 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a program that tracks officials’ pro-choice voting records. If elected, he promises to “only nominate Supreme Court justices who understand that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and recognize the rights of women to have access to family planning services.”

Universal paid maternity leave

If he becomes president, Sanders has said he will work towards “requiring employers to provide 12 weeks paid family […] leave.” According to him, the United States lags behind most developed countries in the world when it comes to supporting families, “we are the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee its workers some form of paid family leave.” He scoffs at Republicans who talk about “family values” while millions of mothers are forced back to work so soon after giving birth simply because they don’t have the financial means to stay home.

In Sanders' mind, paid maternity leave is an integral part family values; On his official campaign website, the Vermont senator states that "real family values are about making sure that parents have the time they need to bond with their babies."

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WAUSAU, WISCONSIN - APRIL 03: Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) speaks to guests at a campaign rally at the Grand Theater on April 3, 2016 in Wausau, Wisconsin. Voters in Wisconsin go to the polls Tuesday for the state's primary. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

His 12-week paid leave initiative would be funded through an insurance program that, like Social Security, employees would pay into with each paycheck, “at the price of roughly one cup of coffee per week.” Romper has reached out to the Sanders campaign for comment and is awaiting a response.

Love him or hate him, it's safe to say that, at this point, Sen. Bernie Sanders has a strong track record of supporting efforts to beef-up maternal health initiatives. Whether he gets the opportunity to implement them as president is still up in the air.