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
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.
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.
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 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
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."
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.