Skip to main site content.
Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton (R) are courting young liberal female voters. (Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders (L) and Hillary Clinton (R) are courting young liberal female voters. (Getty Images)

Campaign rhetoric

Is it fair of Clinton’s supporters to go after Sanders’ record on women?

By Colleen Curry on January 25, 2016

The two Democratic frontrunners are clashing this week over their respective records on women’s issues, with Hillary Clinton’s supporters questioning whether Bernie Sanders has been a strong enough advocate of women’s rights during his career as the former Secretary of State has during hers.

Clinton has earned endorsements from powerful women’s groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America and Emily’s List, prompting Sanders last week to criticize those groups as being part of the “establishment” he was running against, and sparking a back-and-forth between the two camps over which candidate had the better record fighting for women.

“I think that in Washington, he’s never been seen as someone who is really engaged or active on civil rights issues,” Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist and Clinton ally, told the Washington Post this week. “Whether it’s women or gays or African Americans, I think his progressive politics have always been focused on the economic issues, and I think you’re seeing that divide a little bit more in this primary.”

“If I’m not mistaken, I have a 100 percent lifetime voting record with NARAL, a 100 percent voting record with Planned Parenthood,” Sanders told the Washington Post on Saturday. “To be attacked for that is, I think, unfortunate. It’s unfortunate, and it’s obviously wrong.”

At a CNN Democratic town hall event on Monday night, Sanders reiterated that point when he was asked by moderator Chris Cuomo why he’d be a better president on women’s issues than Hillary Clinton. The senator also seemed to back away from an earlier statement in which he characterized Planned Parenthood as being an “establishment” organization after the group endorsed Clinton earlier this month. “I met with Planned Parenthood, they do a fantastic job … Count me in as somebody who strongly supports them,” he told the audience.

Though Clinton’s camp may be hoping to create some doubt in voters’ minds over which candidate really is better for women, their voting records paint a pretty clear picture: both Sanders and Clinton have consistently voted in support of laws protecting women’s choice, women’s health, and women’s economic status, and against any measures seeking to ban abortions or access to contraception or healthcare.

Hillary Clinton looks on as Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
Hillary Clinton looks on as Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009. (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

To help clarify the candidates’ actual records, here are the ways both Clinton and Sanders have voted on and supported major women’s rights issues during their careers:


Bernie Sanders’ long tenures in the House and Senate are marked in part by his unwavering voting record on bills that sought to restrict abortion access. He sponsored the Freedom of Choice Act in 1993, and then went on to vote no on bills banning partial-birth abortions, banning minors from crossing state lines to get abortions, and criminalizing fetal harm during the act of another crime.

Most recently, Sanders co-sponsored the Women’s Health Protection Act, which seeks to roll back state-level restrictions on abortion aces, and co-sponsored a bill trying to protect women’s health from corporate interference, all of which have led the pro-choice group NARAL to give Sanders a 100 percent approval rating.

“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,” Sanders wrote in 2012.

Hillary Clinton gave a landmark speech to NARAL as First Lady during which she announced her goal of keeping abortion “safe, legal and rare,” which would become Clinton’s signature slogan for her stance on abortion through the present day.

As a Senator, Clinton, too, voted against partial birth abortion bans and banning minors from crossing state lines to get abortions, and has earned a 100 percent rating from NARAL for her voting record.

Women’s health

Sanders’ has voted in support of a number of bills protecting women’s access to healthcare and seeking to protect them from domestic and sexual violence: he’s voted in favor of the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Prevention First Act, which includes funding for family planning and access to contraceptives.

In his campaign for president, the Senator from Vermont set the benchmark in proposing 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all Americans. He’s also called for high-quality affordable childcare for all if he’s elected.

During her time as a Senator, Clinton and Senator Patty Murray banded together to block President George W. Bush’s nomination to the head of the FDA until the agency decided whether or not to expand access to Plan B contraception, one of the ways in which Clinton has said she wants to make abortions “rare” by expanding funding for preventative measures including contraception.

She also campaigned for the Family and Medical Leave Act as First Lady, helping to garner support for the bill that would become the first that husband Bill Clinton signed into law as President. When she was elected to the Senate, she worked to expand FMLA for military members. She also worked to launch a national campaign to prevent teen pregnancy by expanding access to birth control.

As a presidential candidate Clinton has said supports 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave and affordable childcare, though she has not yet offered details on how she will fund them, whereas Sanders has said an increase in taxes will fund his programs.

Women in the workplace

Sanders and Clinton both supported the Paycheck Fairness Act and Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act during their time in the Senate. As candidates, they’ve each proposed raising the federal minimum wage, with Sanders calling for a national $15 minimum wage while Clinton has said she would like to see it increased to $12 an hour.

This story has been updated to include Sanders’ comments from Monday night’s Democratic town hall event in Iowa


Hillary Clinton recruits another big-name celeb to attract young female voters

Millennial women continue to support Bernie Sanders

Hillary Clinton making concerted effort to build coalition of Millennial women voters

More women donating to Sanders than to Clinton

Moms and daughters can’t agree on Hillary Clinton, according to report