The Democratic Party has been reckoning with an identity crisis in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s devastating loss in November — and some progressives want to put abortion access back up for debate.
Weighing in on how the Democratic Party could win back white male voters, male writers have argued in the New York Times that the party must distance itself from the issue so that voters no longer see it as the “party of abortion.” In January, the only three Democrats in the house to vote for a piece of legislation restricting abortion access were men. Meanwhile, progressive populist hero Bernie Sanders has endorsed and is campaigning for an anti-choice, Democratic male candidate for mayor of Omaha, Heath Mello.
What is going on here?
To cisgender men, abortion may seem like a small issue in the scope of Sanders’ broader focus on income inequality or Mello’s plan to improve Omaha’s economy. Abortion is sometimes cast as the social thorn in the side of issues that are supposedly more broad-reaching, such as economic justice, and it was barely mentioned during the entire presidential debate season — hence the hashtag #AskAboutAbortion, which reproductive rights activists used to encourage more discussion around the issue.
Because let’s be clear: Abortion is not a niche issue — it’s a fundamental right. For millions of women, trans men, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people who have uteruses, reproductive freedom isn’t some optional add-on to our lives but what makes our lives possible. Without the ability to determine our own reproductive futures, women cannot be economically free; without economic freedom, there can be no gender equality. What’s more, limiting access to birth control and abortion hurts not only women’s earning potential but the entire economy.
Beyond that, legal abortion is really quite popular in the U.S., far more popular than anti-choice Congressional Republicans or the President, who once called for punishing women for having abortions if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Seven in ten Americans want to see Roe upheld. Support for legal abortion is the highest it’s been in decades: 57 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Abortion is a winning issue, not a losing one.
And yet the right to safe and legal abortion is under increasing threat. A veritable onslaught of abortion restrictions has been enacted since 2010, and for many women in the U.S., abortion is now difficult or nearly impossible to access. It’s not just abortion: The Supreme Court ruled in 2014 that some companies can deny birth control coverage to their employees under the guise of “religious freedom,” and one of Obamacare’s most transformative provisions for women, non-copay contraception, is under direct threat from Congressional Republicans who just voted to gut Title X and allow states to defund Planned Parenthood.
It isn’t just infuriating to watch Democratic men push this critical issue to the sidelines at such a dire time; it’s inherently sexist. After a woman failed to shatter the proverbial glass ceiling, some Democratic men are content to simply walk away from a key issue in our lives? After November, our health and rights no longer matter?
That’s sure what it feels like.
There’s a reason why so many feminists are outraged by Sanders’ move.
In actively endorsing and campaigning for an anti-choice Democratic candidate, Sanders contradicts women’s economic reality and their rights to their bodies. He is saying to more than half the American population that their health, their liberty, and their economic justice simply aren’t priorities.
And he’s not alone. Many of his supporters are leaping to defend him and his stance, revealing that what should be an inalienable right is up for debate, even among those who call themselves “progressive.”
There’s nothing progressive about that.
If you want women and trans folks to support your candidates, those candidates have to, first and foremost, support our existence. If Bernie Sanders wants to remain any kind of viable progressive champion, he doesn’t just need to center economic justice for all; he needs to check his privilege.
And finally, if Democrats want to win, they can’t treat the fundamental liberty of more than half the American population as an afterthought. Abortion isn’t a bargaining chip.
It’s a baseline right.
More on reproductive justice:
- If You’re Pitying Tomi Lahren Right Now, You’re Missing the Damn Point
- Pope Francis Authorizes All Priests to Forgive Abortions
- Birth Control: A Letter to the Young Women of 2017