abortion rights

What the Hell Happened With Bernie Sanders’s Abortion Comments This Week?

Bernie Sanders. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

In a Meet the Press interview on Sunday, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders bungled his response to a very leading question from Chuck Todd on abortion access.

Todd asked the senator from Vermont if he was “concerned about this idea that people may try to worry about the sex of a child, or essentially, are those types of restrictions on abortions something you’re open to?” Instead of swatting away the unfounded concern that people may be terminating pregnancies after finding out the sex of the fetus — or at the very least pleading ignorance on the matter — Sanders doubled down on Todd’s assertion, saying, “That, I mean, that’s a concern … that’s an issue that society has got to deal with, and it is of concern.”

Todd followed up by asking Sanders how he would “deal with that in the law?” Sanders replied, “I don’t know how, at this particular point. I would deal with it, but that is an issue we really have got to deal with.”

But, wait, it totally isn’t. So-called “sex-selective abortions” are a talking point that conservatives have adopted in recent years; it’s based in the unfounded claim that a cultural preference for sons is driving women to terminate their pregnancies as soon as the fetus is predicted to be female. According to the Guttmacher Institute, there is “limited and inconclusive evidence” that this is happening anywhere in America. Per an explainer from the organization:

Bans on sex-selective abortions place a burden on providers, who are forced to not only question all women’s reasons for seeking an abortion, but to also second-guess and stigmatize Asian-American women and communities. While disguised as a means to eliminate gender discrimination, these laws make abortion less accessible.

As the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum points out, bans on sex-selective abortions are based in harmful myths about the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community. “Supporters of sex-selective abortion bans claim they are necessary because of Asians who migrate to the U.S. and bring ‘backward’ values with them,” reads a report from the organization. “This stereotype about the values of the AAPI community is not only ugly — it’s dangerous. These bans could lead to AAPI patients being singled out for special questioning and even being denied care.”

Furthermore, according to the Guttmacher Institute, “There is broad international consensus that the most effective way to combat sex selection is to implement policies that promote gender equity.” Like so many of the conservative talking points related to reproductive health, opponents of so-called sex-selective abortions are cloaking their true intention — banning abortion through whatever means possible — with claims that their true intention is to preserve female life. To say nothing of the fact that 92 percent of abortions in the United States occur in the first trimester of pregnancy, before most pregnant people know the sex. Eight states have banned abortions on the basis of sex-selection at some point in the pregnancy, anyway.

Sanders’s record on abortion-rights rhetoric isn’t flawless. In 2017 Sanders stumped for Democratic anti-abortion mayoral candidate Heath Mello, attracting criticism from pro-choice groups. But he’s been adamant on the campaign trail and throughout his career that “abortion is health care,” a choice made by pregnant people and their physicians. Earlier in his Meet the Press interview Sanders said as much in response to a question about whether he would use Roe v. Wade as a litmus test for appointing judges. “If you’re asking me would I ever appoint a Supreme Court justice who does not believe in defending Roe v. Wade, who does not believe that a woman has a right to control her own body, I will never do that,” he affirmed.

I’m willing to give Sanders the benefit of the doubt and hypothesize that he hasn’t been quietly imbibing right-wing talking points, but was in fact tricked by Chuck Todd — which is particularly unfortunate, since falling into these rhetorical traps plays right into anti-choicer’s hands.

Why Did Bernie Sanders Repeat an Anti-Choice Talking Point?