Bernie Sanders on Women’s Rights

Bernie Sanders is a lifelong advocate for women. His is the first major campaign to be unionized and have a union contract that addresses discrimination and pay equity, and workplace harassment. 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. Bernie has a 100% rating from NARAL and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.  

Sexual & Reproductive Health: Women’s bodies are theirs, and they deserve access to high-quality reproductive healthcare. This includes access to contraceptives, and the right to choose a safe abortion.

Pay Equity: Women deserve equal pay for equal work — end of story.

Sexual and Domestic Violence: Sexual and domestic violence must be addressed by strengthening the laws on stalking, granting temporary visas to battered undocumented women, reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, and increasing funding for domestic violence programs.

Equal Rights Amendment: Gender equality should be guaranteed by the Constitution.

Sexual & Reproductive Health

“When we are in the White House, we are going to protect a woman’s right to control her own body. That is her decision, not the government’s.” – Bernie Sanders, 2020 Platform

Women have the fundamental right to control their bodies. When it comes to sexual and reproductive health, the government should not have a say. 

As Bernie wrote in a 2012 op-ed: “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.” 

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 has cosponsored and supported legislation to protect those rights. 

His position on a woman’s right to choose is longstanding. In 1993, he cosponsored 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.

There has been a lot of legislation in recent years that is an attack on a women’s rights to control their own bodies.

Over the past few years, there has been an “unprecedented wave of state-level abortion restrictions” that rolls back progress on women’s reproductive healthcare rights. Access to safe resources for healthcare have been more limited than in the past.  On the federal level, the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal health insurance programs from covering abortions except in cases of rape, incest or risk to the woman’s life is inserted in appropriations bills so that legislators have no choice but to vote for it. This Hyde amendment affects access not just for low income women but also Native American women, federal employees, Peace Corps volunteers, military personnel, and federal prisoners. 

Here are some of the more extreme state laws limiting abortion rights that have been enacted:

  • Fetal heartbeat bills restrict abortions at six or eight weeks during pregnancy, when many women do not know they are pregnant. 
  • Alabama law criminalizes performing an abortions with a 99 year sentence for doctors who are responsible for terminating a pregnancy. 
  • South Dakota requires state-directed counseling then a 72 hour waiting period before permitting an abortion procedure. 
  • South Dakota law, limits public funding for an abortion only if the mother’s life in endangered, not for cases of rape or incest.
  • Trigger laws” that have been passed in some states will automatically make abortion illegal if Roe v. Wade is overturned and the decision to ban abortion is given to states 

There are many parts of the U.S. where the distance to the closest provider is so far it’s not just a barrier, there is no practical access to abortion services.


A woman in Rapid City, South Dakota, must travel 318 miles to get an abortion. There is a 72 hour waiting period between counseling and the procedure. She will also need a 1–2 week follow up examination to ensure the procedure was completed. So she must either travel 3 times to the clinic (1,908 miles – 32 hours) or pay for a hotel for 3 days so she only has to travel 2 times and go 1,272 miles (21 hours). So she needs a car and money for gas, an explanation for her absence, time off from work…the logistics and required planning are daunting and that appears to be the point of these laws.

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

Bernie has actively worked to combat these restrictions by cosponsoring a bill that would lift restrictions on abortion, known as the Women’s Health Protection Act.

In addition to cosponsoring 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) which would have defined life as beginning at conception.

Additionally, Bernie has pledged to only nominate Supreme Court Justices who support Roe v. Wade.

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

Of course. One way to do that would be to reduce poverty.

Surveys show that the most common reasons given for getting an abortion are financial. Women living in poverty accounted for 42.4% of abortions in 2008 According to that study, poverty is highly correlated with both abortion rates and teenage pregnancy.  

75% of women who have abortions are low-income. Without access abortions there are far-reaching socioeconomic consequences, that “exacerbates” the hardship of those already struggling to make ends meet, according to 2018 research published in the American Journal of Public Health. The 2018 study found that women who could not obtain an abortion were more likely to be living in poverty four years later.  They were are less likely to have a full-time job and were more reliant on public assistance than women who received abortions. Denying access seems to increase the poverty of these women and passes it on to their children.

Bernie’s many proposals to reduce poverty, could have a positive effect and reduce abortion rates and help mothers who choose to carry those pregnancies to term.  Some of those proposals: a living wage, Medicare for All, paid maternity and paternity leaveend the gender pay gap, and free public higher education.

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. 

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, women are still paid less than men and minority workers are paid less than their white counterparts for doing the same work. There are persistent wage gaps for workers based on gender, race and race within gender, sexual orientation, and immigrant v. U.S. born. Bernie believes workers deserve equal pay for equal work. He has fought throughout his political career to end wage discrimination and give all American workers the pay they have earned and deserve.

What is the Gender Wage Gap?

Women make 82 cents for every dollar men make doing the exact same job. Women are less likely than men to hold high-level, high-paying jobs.

A persistent pay gap exists between men and women which may seem small, but is not as it adds up over time. In real terms this pay imbalance means a woman would have to work 39 extra days to earn the same as a man. Bernie recognizes the broad impact of lower wages for women.  He said, “Equal pay is not just a women’s issue; it’s a family issue. When women don’t receive equal pay for equal work, families across America have less money to spend on child care, groceries, and housing.

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 is only for full-time workers. 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.

How is the pay gap calculated?

United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the main government agency that collects data to measure labor market activity and working conditions. The BLS 2018 report concludes that, “In 2017, women who worked full time in wage and salary jobs had median usual weekly earnings of $770, which represented 82 percent of men’s median weekly earnings of $941.”

According to this measure, a female worker makes $0.82 for every $1 a male worker makes.

In 2017, the real median earnings for men employed full-time, year-round was $52,146 and for women it was $41,977. The female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.805 meaning a pay difference of $10,169.

There is also a race wage gap within the gender wage gap.

From the BLS report, among women, weekly earnings among Black women was $657 and Hispanic women $603. According to this measure. For every $1 a white man makes a Black women earn $0.61, and Latina women $0.53.

The wage gap is probably even worse than these statistics indicate. The BLS numbers only represent people who work full-time. Nearly one quarter of women in the labor force work part-time jobs, so their wages aren’t included in these statistics.

American women are not alone in struggling with gender disparity with wages. The gender pay gap persists worldwide, including Europe and has been widely underestimated

Check out our Equal Pay article for more information.

OK, but this doesn’t seem to control for other factors. Is this a problem with employers paying unequally, or with workers’ specific situations?

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that women earned 44 percent less than men from 1983 to 2000. The difference was reduced to 21 percent after controlling for the independent variables: years of work experience, hours worked per year, time out of the labor force, length of time at the job (tenure), unemployment, and whether the individual worked a full-time or part-time schedule. The GAO report stated that work patterns, such as not working full-time or leaving the workforce temporarily, played the largest role in influencing pay. Women who took just one year off had earnings 39% lower than women who worked all fifteen years between 2001 and 2015.

Some studies have examined the impact of “observable differences” such as experience and education, and those coming from “unobservable differences” such as employer discrimination. Adjusting for all variables that may account for the lack of parity in wages still doesn’t fully explain away the gender wage gap

One recent study which controls for additional variables such as: geography, experience, and job titles finds the unexplained gender wage gap to be around 8%.

This map shows the gender pay gap by state.

A report by the Joint Economic Council found that “[t]he pay gap can only be partially explained by differences in personal choices.” 

The fact is that a gender wage gap remains even after making all such adjustments, but the amount of that gap which is attributed to discrimination varies. 8 percent is the currently accepted number due to discrimination. 

If the gap due to discrimination is just 8 percent, what’s the concern?

Well, the point is that equal work deserves equal pay.  The most conservative wage gap calculations add up over time. If the gender wage gap was a mere 2 percent, of a $50,000 per year salary, that means a woman would earn $1,000 a year less. Over the course of a career, this amounts to tens of thousands of dollars. And retirement is affected also since Social Security benefits are calculated based on wages earned, meaning that women who are paid less during their careers will also earn less in retirement.

Women are an integral part of the labor force, yet they are experiencing overt gender discrimination. In a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, 42% of working women reported experiencing gender discrimination at work. 

And this issue is not going to just disappear. While the gender wage gap has decreased, progress has stalled. One study estimates that “if the pace of change in the annual earnings ratio continues at the same rate as it has since 1960, it will take another 41 years, until 2059, for men and women to reach parity.”

Other than discrimination, what factors show women are paid less?

The reality is that someone must run the household and be responsible for child-rearing duties, and it continues to be women who do most of this very important, uncompensated work. Because of this need for a work-life balance, many women, in particular those with children or caring for loved ones, must have reduced schedules or flexible work schedules. Non-professional women often must take part-time work instead of full-time work, sometimes combining 2 or 3 jobs to earn enough money to pay the bills.

The need for a flexible work schedule reduces work opportunities in many ways for these workers.  They have less mobility and cannot travel long distances for work or easily move for better job opportunities. They have less time so they can’t work long hours and don’t have the time for training to gain job skills or bolster resumes. They have breaks in employment to have children and to care for their children so they are often passed over for raises and promotions.  All of these choices result in inequities that limit job opportunities and the ability to advance in a career. 

Some argue that unequal work means unequal pay. They argue that some women choose to work in professions that pay less, so they earn less not because of discrimination but because of their own choice of profession. But there are other reasons women make different job choices

It is more complicated than just choosing one job over another. There are cultural and social norms and expectations that define job choices for many women.  

There is a lower value on the work that many women do. There’s no question that women are overrepresented in low-paying teaching, nursing, and service jobs and underrepresented in high paying computer programming and engineering jobs.


Teachers deserve to be paid more. Nurses deserve to be paid more. Service industry and retail workers deserve to be paid a living wage

Simply ignoring the pay gap because some of it can be explained by factors other than discrimination does not do justice to the issue. The opportunity gap, societal norms, and structural barriers that keep women from holding high-level, high-paying jobs and advancing in the workplace must also be addressed in a serious manner.

What has Bernie done to eliminate the gender wage gap?

Bernie finds gender disparity in wages unacceptable. He wants to Adopt Equal Pay for Equal Work through the Paycheck Fairness Act

Bernie is a cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act of 2019, which prohibits employers from asking job applicants about how much money they made at previous jobs, criminalizes retaliation against employees who ask about their wages, and increases penalties for wage violations. In 2012, Bernie supported the Paycheck Fairness Act and helped bring the bill to a vote again in 2014

Bernie is a cosponsor of the Equality Act, which would prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation. He is also a cosponsor of the FAMILY Act, which would provide paid family and medical leave benefits.

In March of 2001, Bernie cosponsored a constitutional amendment that would guarantee fair treatment and employment of women, it 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.” 

Bernie again cosponsored the ERA was reintroduced in the Senate in March 2019.

Among his twelve point Economic Agenda for America, Bernie wrote that we must “provide equal pay for women workers who now make 78 percent of what male counterparts make.” In addition to these more recent efforts, 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.”

One report suggests that there are other policies that would help reduce the gender pay gap, such as: strengthening equal employment opportunity policies, enforcing Title IX, proving paid family and medical leave and making affordable child care accessible would all help mitigate the inequalities facing women in the labor force. Bernie supports all of these policies.Throughout his career, Bernie has fought for working families and he continues to do so

Learn more about all these subjects on the Working People, Equal Pay, and Minimum Wage pages.

Sexual and Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment

The rates of sexual and domestic violence against women in this country are both shocking and tragic. According to a 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.

Bernie has called for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.

In 2012, Bernie cosponsored 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.

What is Bernie’s campaign doing about these issues?

Bernie’s campaign has implemented the strongest protocols to prevent workplace harassment.

Equal Rights Amendment

The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) is a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would guarantee equal rights to all people regardless of their sex. The original version of the ERA passed in 1972, but it was only ratified in 35 states, three short of the 38 required to amend the Constitution.

What has Bernie said about the Equal Rights Amendment?

Passing the Equal Rights Amendment was a part of Bernie’s 2016 platform, and it’s part of his 2020 platform too. He joined as a cosponsor when the ERA was reintroduced in the Senate in March 2019.