Democrats Need To Step Up To The Plate On Reproductive Health

The issue of reproductive choice is not the same as a different perspective on an earmark or funding agricultural subsidies.
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Tom Perez, DNC Chair, at a rally on their Unity Tour.
Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Tom Perez, DNC Chair, at a rally on their Unity Tour.

As part of the Democratic Unity Tour, Senator Bernie Sanders and DNC Chairman Tom Perez have hit the road to visit press junkets, local races, and big events to support down-ticket Democratic candidates. It’s not exactly clear why Sanders is there ― as he said in an MSNBC interview, he’s not a Democrat ― but presumably because Elizabeth Warren is on her own book tour and nobody knows who Chuck Schumer is, Bernie’s out on the road.

In a piece published by NPR, Sanders is reported to have defended his decision to support pro-life Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello. That decision earned him a harsh rebuke from NARAL, a pro-choice organization, and distancing from Perez and the DNC as a whole. When asked to explain his decision, Sanders said:

“The truth is that in some conservative states there will be candidates that are popular candidates who may not agree with me on every issue. I understand it. That’s what politics is about. ... If we are going to protect a woman’s right to choose, at the end of the day we’re going to need Democratic control over the House and the Senate, and state governments all over this nation. And we have got to appreciate where people come from, and do our best to fight for the pro-choice agenda. But I think you just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

Coming from a man who once called himself “an honorary woman,” this statement is incredibly tone-deaf to the real and pressing needs women face regarding reproductive choice. It’s not exactly clear what Sanders’ criteria for good political positions are, given that he openly doubted the progressive credentials of Georgia House candidate Jon Ossoff, a man endorsed by Planned Parenthood.

The issue of reproductive choice is not the same as a different perspective on an earmark or funding agricultural subsidies. This is literally a matter of life and death, no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on (pro-choice people focus on the woman, pro-life people on the fetus). There is no casual disagreement about the issue of abortion.

Moreover, in a political climate where women’s reproductive resources are often first on the chopping block when it comes to federal and state funding, it’s clear that the Trump Administration has about as much stake in women’s health as their chief executive has in Sexual Assault Awareness Month: zero. Without careful strategizing and conscientious efforts on the part of Democrats, access to mammograms, vaccines, birth control, and health screenings will disappear entirely. The result will be a movement of women underground, to obtain services that endanger their health, performed by amateurs with no health or safety training that could end up doing permanent damage to their patients. Just because we stop providing these services does not mean people will stop needing them, and the most desperate of people will go to any lengths, even at great personal risk.

As unclear as it is what Sanders is actually trying to accomplish or why he’s going about it the way he is, it is obvious that the Democratic Party is being led to a very dangerous place by someone who’s not even a member: a platform that prioritizes the economic insecurity of rural, white men over all others. That’s not to say their needs aren’t important or that the Democratic Party can’t address them better. But in a climate that is so openly hostile towards everyone who doesn’t look like our president, we cannot afford to abandon inclusion for colorblindness.

This is not a retroactive reading on the merits of Hillary Clinton, despite what some would have you believe. This is not an unwarranted, unreasonably harsh critique of Sanders either. If he wants to lead the Democratic Party into the future, he needs to get his act together. He’s making zero attempt to even appear remotely tolerant of Tom Perez, or any other Democratic leaders. He’s not even trying to achieve compromise, unless it comes to issues like this when compromise excuses incongruent ideology.

I really want to like Bernie Sanders. But we already have a white man in power who’s convinced that he is the only person who can fix the problems of our country, and can do that by sacrificing the rights and freedoms of the most vulnerable among us. We don’t need two.