Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Democratic candidates have varied positions on health care, abortion

While all Democratic contenders are pro–abortion rights, some key differences on women's health, reproductive rights

At Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate, it’s safe to say that none of the candidates — unlike their Republican counterparts — are likely to dispute the effectiveness of vaccines or demand that the federal government stop funding Planned Parenthood.

But there are key differences among the Democratic contenders when it comes to health care and women’s reproductive rights.

Front-runner Hillary Clinton, who declared in 1995 that that “women’s rights are human’s rights,” has publicly supported funding Planned Parenthood in the face of recent sting videos. She has even compared GOP candidates’ stances on women’s reproductive rights to those of “terrorist groups,” saying they back policies on contraception and health care access that are out of date.

But when it comes to abortion, Clinton takes a less strident approach. When she repeats the catchphrase that abortion in the U.S. should be “safe, legal and rare,” she placed an emphasis on the “rare” aspect, which some women's rights advocates say stigmatizes abortion. But she has testified on the importance of family planning when it comes to women's health and that "reproductive health includes access to abortion."

Several Republican candidates have vowed to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and Clinton promises to make sure it remains on the books. But she wants to lower the costs of health care co-pays and deductibles under the Affordable Care Act and cap the costs of prescription drugs.

Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s principal rival, falls further to the left when it comes to abortion rights. Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, has unequivocally backed women’s abortion rights and access to all forms of birth control. “The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman and her doctor to make, not the government,” Sanders says on his website.

He wants to expand funding to Planned Parenthood to provide more testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), cancer screenings and primary care services to women. Sanders supported “Obamacare” in the Senate. As a candidate, Sanders has proposed a Medicare-for-all plan, in which he would expand Medicare, which insures the nation’s senior citizens, into a single-payer national health care system. That way, he has said, health insurance coverage would be available to the millions of uninsured low- and middle-income people who live in states that chose not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

The remaining three candidates — not counting an 11th hour debate appearance by Vice President Joe Biden — have not been as vocal in staking out positions on reproductive rights and health care, but their past policy moves may offer some insight into their views.

Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, for example, signed the Family Planning Works Act in 2012, which provided more low-income women with free pregnancy counseling in addition to contraception, STI testing and cervical cancer screenings funded by Medicaid.

O’Malley is Catholic, but he is also pro–abortion rights. In a 2012 interview, he accused the Catholic Church of “hyperventilating” over Obama’s Affordable Care Act regulations requiring employers and insurers cover reproductive health benefits for women.

Jim Webb, a Vietnam veteran and former secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan, voted as a senator to support Planned Parenthood funding in 2011, but he has remained silent on the recent congressional investigation into the videos.

Women’s reproductive rights have not been a prominent part of the former Virginia senator's campaign, but he supports Roe v. Wade. Webb also voted against the 2012 Blunt Amendment to the ACA, which would have allowed employers to opt out of covering contraceptives under employee health plans based on moral or religious beliefs.

Lincoln Chafee, an ex-Republican who served as governor of Rhode Island, also supports abortion rights. He said that “a woman should make her own reproductive decisions” and as a U.S. senator he co-sponsored the Family Planning State Empowerment Act, which would have eliminated red tape for women to get access to planning services under Medicaid.

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter