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Reproductive Rights are Non-Negotiable

by Callie Ahlgrim

Photography Courtesy of Win McNamee/Getty Images

For too long now, since he first announced his presidential bid two years ago, Bernie Sanders has been hailed by millennials and anti-establishment liberals as the savior of the Democratic Party.

Indeed, just a few weeks ago, a Fox News poll found that he is the most popular politician in America, without contest—and it’s not an outlier. Since his initial slingshot to prominence in April of 2015, Bernie has only grown more beloved over time.

Though his presidential platform had many potential pitfalls, namely with realistic implementation, it was difficult to argue that Bernie was not the obvious choice for far-left voters. He himself made a point to criticize Hillary Clinton for being too moderate on numerous occasions—which is why Bernie stunned many supporters and critics alike during his appearance on MSNBC last Wednesday.

Joe Scarborough asked, “Can the Democratic Party be open to candidates that may not be rigidly pro choice?” Bernie responded, “The answer, I think, is yes.”

He immediately went on to say that Democrats must “take on the big money interest.” He did not spare a moment to dwell on the concept (and dangers) of not being “rigidly pro-choice.”

Hearing that response, the uneasy gut feeling I had about Bernie during the primaries, my unnamed discomfort, suddenly came flooding back.

Bernie demands rigidity from liberals on his pet issues, to the point of lampooning those who disagree. But on the rights of women to own their own bodies, his manifesto is a resounding “eh.”

Now, to be clear, Bernie is pro-choice. But let’s continue to be clear: in a truly progressive Democratic Party—a party that builds itself upon equal rights for all people—supporting reproductive rights is not optional.

Even though you may counter that Bernie identifies as a Democratic Socialist and does not speak explicitly for the Democratic Party, this isn’t just a Bernie problem. A couple days before the segment on MSNBC, an op-ed appeared in The New York Times titled, “To Win Again, Democrats Must Stop Being the Abortion Party.”

“Political discourse largely ignores the possibility of a middle ground between making all abortions legal or prohibiting them entirely,” the article argues.

The piece, written by a male theology professor, stresses the “profound moral and religious concern” surrounding abortion, especially as felt by Catholic voters. He also argues that Democrats should advocate for maintaining the Hyde Amendment, which forbids federal funds to be used for abortion except in extreme circumstances.

These two men represent a significant portion of the Democratic Party—a portion that seems to believe that loosening the grip on something as trivial as women’s rights may allow the party to reclaim southern votes.

These anti-abortion arguments betray themselves. While abortion itself is obviously complex, reproductive rights cannot be seen as a bargaining chip or grounds for compromise.

Celebrating concessions like the Hyde Amendment ignores the root of the issue altogether: bodily autonomy.

By painting the legalization of abortion as something that exists on various levels (i.e. the caveat, “except in extreme circumstances,” such as rape), pro-lifers prove that it isn’t really about the fetus. It isn’t about a moral concern.

If you truly believed that fetuses had rights, were sentient souls deserving of a chance at being born, it wouldn’t matter whether they were conceived through rape or not. Fetuses that result from rape and fetuses that result from loving relationships are biologically the same, so why would one deserve rights and not the other?

A platform that is not “rigidly pro-choice” is a platform that believes—whether consciously or not—that pregnant women in crisis do not deserve protection and support. However moderate or forgiving a pro-life platform may seem, it is an echo of Donald Trump’s statement that women should be punished for having an abortion; outlawing and restricting access to abortion is punishing a woman for choosing to have sex.

The truth is that we don’t deny smokers cancer treatment because they accepted the risk of smoking. We don’t deny medical attention to people who were injured in car accidents because they accepted the risk of driving.

We don’t even deny maximum-security prisoners medical attention when they fall ill, so why should we feel entitled to deny a pregnant woman medical attention because she accepted the risk of having sex?

Adoption is a great option, but it only solves the problem of not wanting or being able to parent a child, not the problem of being pregnant—which has the potential to distort the female body in irreparable ways, to scramble the woman's hormones, or even to kill her.

"Bodily autonomy" simply means that nobody can use your body without your consent. If two friends were involved in a car crash, one died, and the other desperately needed their friend’s kidney to survive, they couldn’t have it—even though it is of no use to a corpse—unless the dead person had already consented to be an organ donor.

Claiming that an unborn fetus has a right to use a pregnant person’s body for nine months, has the right to highjack the woman’s womb and body chemistry, not only gives the fetus more rights than any other person in the country—it also gives the pregnant person less rights than a dead body.

So-called Democrats who don’t understand this have no right to my vote. They have no right to my party if its platform claims to champion equal rights for all. That's what I signed up for.

Bernie may not see this issue clearly simply because he has never had to. He has never experienced the threat of conceiving and being forced to carry an unwanted fetus.

But for true progressives—and especially for women—this needs to be a rigid issue.

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