While campaigning in the Midwest on Saturday ahead of a series of primaries over the next two weeks, Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled a major new proposal that aims to ensure universal, affordable access to reproductive healthcare and take on the maternal mortality crisis impacting communities of color across the United States.
"We must once and for all put an end to the unacceptable crisis of Black maternal mortality, and ensure every woman in this country—no matter where they're from—has the basic right to quality healthcare."
—Sen. Bernie Sanders
The Reproductive Health Care and Justice for All plan builds on the Democratic presidential primary candidate's broad call for guaranteeing healthcare as a human right for all Americans. In the Senate, Sanders (I-Vt.) has led the fight for Medicare for All, which is a key piece of his 2020 platform.
The new proposal "reflects the fact that issues of justice must be addressed holistically and intersectionally," the Sanders campaign explained in a statement. "The plan will be implemented in tandem with a comprehensive, progressive agenda to end racial disparities in our economic, criminal justice, environmental, education, and healthcare systems."
— Hayley Farless (@hayleyfarless) March 7, 2020
"There has been no time in the history of this country when women, especially Black women, have had the reproductive freedom and justice that they deserve. In my administration, that will finally change," Sanders declared Saturday. "We must once and for all put an end to the unacceptable crisis of Black maternal mortality, and ensure every woman in this country—no matter where they're from—has the basic right to quality healthcare."
Sanders also vowed that "when I am in the White House, we will fight back against the Republican assault on abortion rights across this country and defend a woman's fundamental right to control her own body. As president, there will be no doubt that in the United States of America, abortion is a constitutional right. Period."
Since President Donald Trump took office, he has appointed two right-wing U.S. Supreme Court justices as Republican lawmakers in Congress and state legislatures nationwide have ramped up attacks on reproductive rights. Several states have enacted laws which were written with the ultimate goal of forcing the Supreme Court to reconsider the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that affirmed the constitutional right to safe, legal abortion without undue government restrictions.
Amid relentless attacks on reproductive freedom from the Trump administration and GOP lawmakers—along with efforts to make it harder for people to access healthcare in the United States—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that the nation's maternal mortality rate is rising, most of those deaths are preventable, and Black and Native American women are about three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women.
Sanders' reproductive justice plan, detailed on his campaign website, includes list of actions he would take to address the Black maternal mortality crisis. Those actions include increasing access to and funding for reproductive services and facilities in diverse communities, working with women of color-led organizations to develop and coordinate policy, educating health providers on providing culturally competent care, and banning discrimination against patients.
The proposal also calls for passing the Nurse Staffing Standards for Hospital Patient Safety and Quality Care Act, boosting funds for healthcare facilities frequented by Black parents, and implementing requirements for medical schools and hospitals to improve the experiences of patients of color. A Sanders administration would also double funding for the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program and expand the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).
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More broadly, Sanders' site explains:
Under Medicare for All, the Hyde Amendment will be repealed and all reproductive health services will be provided free at the point of service. Contraception will also be covered and free. In order to ensure everyone can receive the reproductive healthcare they need under Medicare for All, Bernie will significantly expand funding for Planned Parenthood, Title X, and other initiatives that protect women's health, access to contraception, and the availability of a safe and legal abortion.
As president, Sanders vows to require all judicial nominees to support Roe v. Wade and use his executive authority to reverse Trump's anti-choice actions. He would also fight to codify Roe v. Wade into law and ban state Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws that impose undue, unnecessary restrictions on abortion care providers. Sanders would also outlaw "ineffective abstinence-only sex education."
Sanders' new reproductive justice plan came ahead of the next batch of primaries scheduled for Tuesday—when voters in Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Washington will head to the polls, and Democrats in North Dakota will participate in caucuses.
While Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) remains a presidential candidate, the primary race has been widely seen as a two-person contest between Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden throughout this past week, which featured the Super Tuesday primaries and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) ending her campaign.
Some reproductive rights advocates who welcomed Sanders' plan Saturday suggested that it represents a challenge to Biden to put forth an equally bold proposal:
.@BernieSanders just released a robust plan on abortion rights and reproductive justice. See it here: https://t.co/SQfVbRaGhL We've tussled in the past with the good Senator, so I am here to say this is a very solid plan on its merits. We'd love to see the same from @JoeBiden.
— ilyse hogue (@ilyseh) March 7, 2020
— Doc McNick (@DocMcnick) March 7, 2020
Speaking about abortion rights during a rally in Detroit Friday, Sanders said that "on this issue, Joe Biden has not been consistent and in fact has not had a good record."