Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said Wednesday during the Democratic primary debate that they would not necessarily reject Democrats who have anti-abortion views, while reaffirming they strongly believe in the need for reproductive justice.
Moderator Rachel Maddow asked the two presidential hopefuls if there is room in the Democratic Party for recently reelected Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards, who in May signed a bill banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy ― one of the strictest such laws in the country.
Warren and Sanders emphasized that they support access to abortion. But neither senator definitively said they would not support a Democrat who didn’t share their views.
Warren responded by saying abortion access is important, and she called it both a human right and an economic right.
“Protecting the right of a woman to be able to make decisions about her own body is fundamentally what we do and what we stand for as a Democratic Party,” she said.
Maddow nudged Warren to answer the question. The senator didn’t offer a direct response, saying instead that it’s not on her to dictate who is or is not in the party.
“I have made clear what I think the Democratic Party stands for,” she said. “I’m not here to try to drive anyone out of this party. I’m not here to build fences.”
Sanders said he believes men have to stand up and support abortion access. He also called out the GOP for being the party of small government ― except where reproductive health care is concerned.
“It is women who control their own bodies, not politicians,” he said.
Although Sanders has always supported abortion rights, he faced criticism from some reproductive justice advocates in 2017 after throwing his support behind anti-abortion Democrat Heath Mello, who was running to be mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.
“[Supporting] a candidate for office who will strip women ― one of the most critical constituencies for the party ― of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid,” Ilyse Hogue, president of advocacy group NARAL Pro Choice America, said at the time.
Sanders and Warren aren’t the only candidates who have spoken up about the party’s divide over abortion.
“We’ve always been a big tent party,” Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told HuffPost in May. “I’m not going to tell [national Democratic organizations] what to do. What I know is that my responsibility as a candidate is to stand up for women’s reproductive rights.”