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COLUMN | What Bernie needs to get about Planned Parenthood

Bernie Sanders (D) is running a grassroots campaign that does not include big donors like Planned Parenthood and the HRC.
Bernie Sanders (D) is running a grassroots campaign that does not include big donors like Planned Parenthood and the HRC. (Wikimedia Commons)

I consider myself a Bernie Sanders supporter.  Of all the candidates running for the presidency in 2016, he’s the person I’d prefer to have the job.  He advocates for getting money out of politics, is willing to listen to and support groups like Black Lives Matter, and has even called for the (detestable) governor of my home state of Michigan, Rick Snyder, to resign over the Flint water crisis.  It’s safe to say that I’ve “felt the Bern,” even though I know he most likely will not receive the DNC nomination.

Recently though, a friend of mine mentioned something about Sanders that made me balk a little. In an interview with Rachel Maddow, he answered a question regarding Hillary Clinton’s endorsements by Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) by saying that he is willing to “take on the political establishment.”  Hearing him say he wanted to take on an essential organization like Planned Parenthood — as if it were a huge problem in the political process in the same way that Wall Street is — made me pause.

There’s no denying Planned Parenthood is a part of the “establishment.”  Though the medical clinics cannot donate to political campaigns, Politifact found that Planned Parenthood affiliated Super PACS, like Planned Parenthood votes, do donate large amounts of money to Democratic campaigns.  They also have groups that lobby for them in Washington, D.C. in attempts to get legislation passed to further their causes.  What irks me about what Sanders said, though, is that he spoke about Planned Parenthood as if it were a bad thing.

When the term “establishment” gets thrown around, it’s used like a dirty word.  A lot of the time, it’s used correctly.  But I take issue with Sanders using the term when referring to Planned Parenthood, solely because it comes across as demonizing an organization that is critical to healthcare for women, particularly lower-income women, across the country.  It is essential for women all over the country, especially for the ones who do not have the access or means for any other sort of care.

At a time when reproductive rights are under attack from the right wing on a daily basis, it’s dangerous to the survival of Planned Parenthood to use such language.  Even when the person saying it has a solid track record for supporting these rights, it can imply to some that they might be willing to do away with the organization.  In 2015, Planned Parenthood was subject to attacks from the right-wing extremists of the GOP over their use of fetal tissue for research, leading to not only organization president Cecile Richards having to spend hours on Capitol Hill, but also a domestic terrorist attack at a Colorado Springs clinic where the shooter was undoubtedly inspired by the hateful right-wing rhetoric.

The organization needs vocal support from politicians like Sanders who will tell the truth, rather than avoid the topic altogether.  With him calling it part of the establishment that so many American voters have expressed their distaste for this political season, it does nothing to help the cause of those fighting and advocating for reproductive rights and affordable healthcare for women.

I urge Senator Sanders to not talk about Planned Parenthood in a way that makes it sound like it’s on the same level as the Wall Street banks and billionaires who buy off politicians for their own personal legislation machines.  Planned Parenthood is nothing like those, which most certainly are a part of the establishment.  Like any politician, Sanders has said some questionable things.  But unlike a good majority of his colleagues, he’s shown the propensity to listen to criticism and learn from it.  That’s why even though he said something like this about Planned Parenthood, I believe he is the most capable candidate to hear what people respond with and to learn from that.

Because American politics never allow for the “perfect candidate,” I’m still going to vote for Bernie.