WASHINGTON - JANUARY 22:  Pro-choice advocates participate in protest in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building January 22, 2010 in Washington, DC. Activists from across the nation gathered to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, which decriminalized abortion in all fifty states.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

No Bernie, There’s No Economic Justice Without Abortion Access

On Thursday, Senator Bernie Sanders flew to Nebraska to campaign for Health Mello, a Democrat running for Mayor of Omaha. The stop is part of Bernie’s “Unity Tour” with Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez — the beginning of a national effort to rebuild and unite Democrats around a shared vision for the party’s future.

Here’s the catch: Heath Mello is a longtime opponent of abortion access who sponsored a 20-week abortion ban in 2010. It contained no exceptions for rape or incest. Mello has also co-sponsored legislation requiring doctors to perform medically-unnecessary ultrasounds, and he voted for a bill to ban insurance plans in the state from covering abortion, which would dramatically restrict access for low-income women. That’s not just “personal opposition”; it’s a clear, concerted campaign to restrict access to abortion.

Under heavy criticism, Sanders doubled down on his support of Mello, telling NPR that Democrats “can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

But of course, Sanders is willing to deny his support to candidates who don’t support his economic justice agenda. Just this week, he bluntly panned Jon Ossoff, a pro-choice Democrat in a tight race to flip Tom Price’s Georgia House seat, as “not a progressive.”

In his fight to define what it means to be progressive and to “radically transform the Democratic Party,” Sanders has drawn an unspoken but clear distinction between the economic issues that animate him (on which he says we must not compromise) and reproductive freedom (on which, he says, we should). It’s a vision in which single-payer and free college are essential parts of the progressive, economic justice agenda, while a woman’s right to choose is not.

But here’s the thing: reproductive freedom is fundamentally an economic justice issue.

Access to abortion — the ability to decide when, and whether, to become a parent — is fundamental to the economic security of women (and other people who can become pregnant). If I found out I were pregnant tomorrow, and I didn’t have the right to choose, unplanned parenthood would derail my career, my educational plans, my entire economic future.

And I’d still be better off than most. Nearly 70 percent of women who obtain abortions live below 200% of the federal poverty line, often because they cannot afford to care for a (or another) child. As Michelle Kinsey Bruns points out, abortion has empowered her to escape “a life of hereditary poverty.” She’s not alone. The landmark “Turnaway Study” tracked women across 21 states who sought but were denied abortion care; researchers found that “women who carried an unwanted pregnancy to term are three times more likely than women who receive an abortion to be below the poverty level two years later.”

Without the ability to control when they become parents, women can’t control their economic futures. There’s no economic justice without abortion access — unless you only care about people who can’t become pregnant.

Like Sanders, Perez defended the DNC’s support for Mello to the Washington Post, arguing, “If you demand fealty on every single issue, then it’s a challenge . . . there are communities, like some in Kansas, where people have a different position.” (Never mind the fact that James Thompson, a staunchly pro-choice progressive running for a deep-red district in Kansas pulled off a 20-point Democratic swing with little DNC support just two weeks ago.)

Let’s be clear: Perez and Sanders aren’t saying that Democrats should compromise; they’re saying women should. Sanders would never urge Democrats to compromise on financial regulation or campaign finance; Perez would never urge the party support Democrats who don’t support the Affordable Care Act. Their calls for “flexibility” and “understanding” are reserved for so-called women’s issues. They recall the old, insidious idea that women should be flexible and understanding, prioritizing what’s viewed as men’s well-being over their own.

Women, of course, have heard this all before — all while women, especially women of color, are the Party’s base, are leading anti-Trump organizing, and are making the overwhelming majority (86 percent!) of calls to Congress. While the Democratic Party flirts with sidelining reproductive rights, women carry its weight. Maybe “unity” should start with supporting us, not negotiating our rights away.

Header image via.

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, where she has led several state and federal campaigns for student survivors' civil rights. In the past, Sejal led LGBT rights campaigns for the Center for American Progress. Today, she is a student at Harvard Law School and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in schools.

Sejal Singh is a law student and columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

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