Bernie Sanders on Women’s Rights

Bernie Sanders is an enthusiastic advocate for women. He has consistently voted pro-choice and for the availability of contraception. He has long fought to protect women from domestic violence and sexual abuse, and promotes equal pay in the workforce. His main stances on women’s rights are:

Sexual & Reproductive Health

Women have the fundamental right to control their bodies when it comes to sexual and reproductive health. In recent years, there has been a wave of legislation at the state level to prevent women from accessing safe abortions. Bernie believes in a woman’s right to choose, and as such, firmly objects to such efforts and has co-sponsored and supported legislation to lift such restrictions. In addition, he supports increased funding for family planning and contraceptives.

Where does Bernie stand with regard to women’s reproductive health?

Bernie believes in protecting a woman’s right to choose and has a lifetime pro-choice record. In 1993, he co-sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act, which aimed to bar states from restricting the right to terminate a pregnancy before fetal viability or at any time when a termination is necessary to protect the health of a woman.

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post published in April 2012, Bernie wrote “We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and physician to make, not the government.”

But doesn’t Bernie want to reduce the number of abortions?

Of course. That’s why his main focus is alleviating poverty. Studies show that poverty is highly correlated with teenage pregnancy and the likelihood of getting an abortion. Surveys show that the most common reasons given for getting an abortion are financial.

Bernie’s many proposals, by reducing poverty, would have the added likelihood of reducing abortion rates:

What has Bernie actually accomplished as far as pro-choice legislation?

During his 16 years in the House of Representatives and 8 years in the Senate, Bernie has consistently supported a woman’s right to choose a safe abortion.

In addition to co-sponsoring the 1993 Freedom of Choice Act, Bernie voted numerous times to allow women to travel interstate for abortions, supported permitting federal funding of organizations that conduct abortions, voted to increase access and funding for family planning for women, and co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013, which prohibited many limitations on abortions. In March 2008, Bernie voted against defining an unborn child as eligible for State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and in turn defining life as beginning at conception.

In light of these votes, Bernie has repeatedly received ratings of 100 percent from NARAL Pro-Choice America, and ratings of 0 percent from the National Right to Life Committee, indicating a pro-choice stance.

So, Bernie is pro-choice. Where does he stand on access to contraceptives?

In addition to being a strong proponent of access to safe abortions, Bernie has been a vocal advocate for family planning and funding for contraceptives. In January 2009, he supported the Prevention First Act, which includes grants to states for family life education. These programs expand funding for family planning and access to contraceptives, and are aimed toward teens to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs.

Bernie has been involved in lots of reproductive health legislation in recent years. Why is there so much congressional activity in this area?

Over the past few years, there has been an “unprecedented wave of state-level abortion restrictions” rolling back progress on women’s reproductive healthcare rights. Access to safe resources for healthcare have been more limited than in the past, including a law in South Dakota that forces a woman to receive state-directed counseling that is designed to discourage her from having an abortion. She then will have to wait 72 hours before the procedure is provided. Bernie has actively worked to combat these restrictions by co-sponsoring a bill that would lift restriction on abortion, known as the Women’s Health Protection Act.

Pay Equity

Although much progress has been made in the area of women’s rights over the past century, women still earn significantly less than their male counterparts. And while the gender pay gap is less now than it was decades ago, “progress in closing the gender pay gap has basically stalled over the past decade,” according to The New York Times.


Really? What do the numbers say about the wage gap?

In 2014, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics published this document, which states that “In 2013, women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $706, which represented 82 percent of men’s median weekly earnings ($860).” This means that if we line up all full time earners in two lines, divided by gender, and sort each line from least income to most, then the woman halfway through the line makes $706 a week, and the man halfway through the line makes $860. Compared to her male counterpart, the woman makes $0.82 for every $1 he makes.

OK, but wait—there’s no guarantee that those workers have the same job. Is this a problem with employers paying unequally, or with the jobs and situations of workers?

Yes and no. The above comparison only demands that workers are full time. However, other studies have been carried out attempting to discriminate between the influence of “observable differences” — e.g., experience and education—  and “unobservable differences”— e.g., employer discrimination — on the wage gap. This is important, since men and women may have different levels of average experience and education.

In this 2003 report, the Government Accountability Office states: “When we account for differences between male and female work patterns as well as other key factors, women earned, on average, 80 percent of what men earned in 2000.” They also claimed that work patterns, such as not working full time or leaving the workforce temporarily, played the largest role in influencing pay.

Some analyses have found smaller gaps. For example, a study conducted by J. and D. O’Neill from the National Bureau of Economic Research  found that the unexplained portion of the pay gap was only 8 percent. According to the Washington Post, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the unexplained portion was only 5 percent for unmarried women.

If the gap due to discrimination is really small, then what’s the concern?

Even the most conservative calculations add up over time. Putting the gap at a mere 2 percent for individual contributors means that a woman working the same job as her male counterpart, averaging 50,000 a year, will be shorted 1,000 a year.  Over the course of a career, this amounts to tens of thousands of dollars which could have otherwise gone towards the purchase of a home, savings, or retirement. Compounding the effects of the wage gap, social security benefits are calculated based on wages. Therefore, women who are paid less during their careers also earn less in retirement.

Not good. So what has Bernie said about the gender wage gap?

Bernie unequivocally decries the gender pay gap, and believes that women must receive “equal pay for equal work”.  In a press statement from 2014, Bernie had this to say on pay inequity: “Pay equity should not be a partisan issue but instead an American issue of basic fairness.” As such, one main goal of Bernie’s presidential candidacy is pay equity for women workers.

That sounds nice, but what has Bernie actually done to bring about pay equity?

Bernie has a lengthy track record of supporting pay equity for women. In fact, in March of 2001, Bernie co-sponsored a constitutional amendment that would guarantee fair treatment and employment of women, which read: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” More recently, Bernie has been a vocal supporter of the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Lilly Ledbetter Act.

What is the Paycheck Fairness Act?

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a proposed legislation to help close the gap between men’s and women’s earnings in the workforce. This Act would add procedural protections to the Equal Pay Act of 1963. Some of the added proponents would include making wages more transparent, requiring employers to prove that wage discrepancies are tied to legitimate business and not to gender, and prohibiting companies from taking retaliatory action against employees who raise concerns about gender-based discrimination.  The Paycheck Fairness Act would also make employers who discriminate based on gender liable in civil action suits for punitive damages.

What’s the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

In addition to supporting the Paycheck Fairness Act, Bernie voted in favor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009, which aims “to ensure that individuals subjected to unlawful pay discrimination are able to effectively assert their rights under the federal anti-discrimination laws.”  The legislation signed into law by President Barack Obama in January of 2009.

Sexual and Domestic Violence

The rates of sexual and domestic violence against women in this country are both shocking and tragic. According to a 2010 report from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 1 in 3 women in the U.S. have experienced “rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.” According to the CDC, those who experience domestic violence or stalking are more prone to “headaches, chronic pain, difficulty with sleeping, activity limitations, poor physical health and poor mental health.”

Bernie believes that the rates of sexual and domestic violence against women — and men — is too high, and that “much more has to be done”.

What has Bernie done and said to address this issue?

Bernie recognizes the seriousness of domestic and sexual violence against women in this country. As such, Bernie voted, in August of 1994, for the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which authorized $1.6 billion towards investigating and prosecuting violent crimes against women, and created the Office on Violence Against Women.  Since the VAWA was enacted in 1994, incidents of domestic violence against women have dropped more than 50 percent.

In 2012, Bernie co-sponsored the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013, a bill that renewed the provisions of the previous VAWA and included additional provisions to protect LGBT victims, expand access to justice for victims on Native American reservations, and extend protection for immigrant victims.

After the renewal of the VAWA in 2012, Bernie said:

“While we are reducing the incidence of domestic violence, much more has to be done. Too many girls and women are still suffering from domestic violence and sexual abuse and that must end.”

What about men? They suffer from abuse, too!

It’s absolutely true that men are victims of domestic violence, and Bernie supports all victims of domestic violence. Although the title of this Act states that it is for women, the operative text is gender-neutral and applies to men and women, including transgender people.