Bernie Sanders misses a crucial link between abortion and "economic issues" in his CNN town hall

Bernie Sanders misses a crucial link between abortion and "economic issues" in his CNN town hall

Sen. Bernie Sanders covered a broad range of topics during his town hall event on CNN Monday night. But one line of discussion left plenty to be desired.

In response to an audience question about whether Sanders would run for president in four years, the Vermont senator suggested that Americans focus on the present instead, and advised progressives to find common ground with Trump supporters on economic issues that unite them rather than those they disagree on like abortion and LGBTQ rights. 

"One of the reasons I think we had success in our [2016] campaign ... is we talked about issues that people believe in," Sanders said. "What I say all over the place is that, yes, of course there are differences in this country on issues like choice or on gay rights ... But on many economic issues, you would be surprised at how many Americans hold the same views."

Sanders may be correct that there's more common ground between Trump supporters and progressives than many Americans would guess. But he's wrong about the distinction between abortion and "economic issues." Abortion often is an economic issue. 

When abortion and access to reproductive health care are restriced in conservative Southern states, for example — which often have the highest poverty rates — it's low-income women who suffer disproportionately. A study published in 2005 in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health found that 73% of women surveyed said they had an abortion because they "could not afford a baby." A separate study published in 2013 in BMC Women's Health found that 40% of respondents cited "financial reasons" for having the procedure.

A similar critique to that of Sanders' characterization of abortion can be made of his take on LGBTQ issues. The right to same-sex marriage is an economic issue, too. Same-sex couples would be unable to get the legal and financial benefits that come with marriage if their unions weren't legally recognized. And more than half of all U.S. states, don't have employment protections for LGBTQ people.

Amid post-election calls for progressives to abandon "identity politics" in favor of so-called economic issues, it bears noting that economic privilege and identity are entangled in countless, intractable ways. It does nothing to clarify our understanding of these issues to act like there's a hard line dividing them.