Sanders Unveils Women's Rights Policy Initiatives

Sanders Unveils Women's Rights Policy Initiatives

Last week, I wrote about Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’s lack of policy proposals regarding women’s rights. Over the weekend, the campaign updated its website to include several new policy initiatives. Sanders’s new plan for fighting for women’s rights is expansive, and the most detailed in the Democratic field.

If elected president, Sanders would only nominate Supreme Court justices who would protect Roe v. Wade and the right to family-planning services, especially important in the wake of last year’s Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby decision, which set a dangerous precedent for privately owned corporations who wish to deny their employees birth control.

Sanders’s new platform also vows to expand funding for Planned Parenthood, the Title X family-planning program, other initiatives that protect access to abortion and contraception, as well as the Women, Infants, and Children supplemental nutrition program, which provides federal grants to states for food, health-care referrals, and nutrition education for low-income mothers and their children. The Sanders campaign says he is working on a plan to make child care and pre-kindergarten available to all families, regardless of income.

Sanders zeroes in on the “international embarrassment” of being the only major country that doesn’t guarantee paid leave to workers, by calling for employers to provide at least 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. “It is not a family value to force the mother of a newborn baby to go back to work a few days after she gives birth because she doesn’t have the money to stay home and bond with her baby,” reads the new policy proposal, which he calls a real “family value” (a jab to Republicans).

On the wage-discrimination front, Sanders would sign the Paycheck Fairness Act and raise the minimum wage. Since women make up two-thirds of all minimum-wage workers, increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 would boost the wages of more than 15 million women—and help close the gender pay gap. Women also make up more than two-thirds of tipped minimum-wage workers who have been making $2.13 an hour, before tips, since 1991—Sanders wants to raise those wages to $15 an hour by 2023.

While expanding Medicaid in all states would provide health care for millions of low-income women, Sanders wants to take it a step further and enact a “Medicare for All” single-payer system. According to the campaign, women pay more for health-care expenses than men and pay a greater portion out of their own pockets.

Sanders also plans to expand Social Security. A 2013 study conducted by the National Women’s Law Center found that elderly women had fallen even deeper into poverty, partly due to cuts to Social Security Administration funding. The majority of Social Security recipients are women, and they receive smaller checks than their male counterparts. Thirty percent of elderly women rely on Social Security for 90 percent of their income, compared to only 23 percent of men. Any cuts to Social Security would devastate the economic well-being of elderly women.  

Critics of Bernie Sanders often point out that he’s only comfortable talking about economic issues—but releasing this new policy platform is a step in the right direction. And in the most recent polling in New Hampshire, Sanders is 7 points ahead of the presumed Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. Clinton—whose website right now only has a passing mention of affordable child care and nothing on reproductive rights—better watch out.