Women could lead starkly different lives depending on whether they live under a McCain/Palin or Obama/Biden Administration. At risk is their economic well-being, their health, and their very right to control their own bodies. Looking beyond the sound bites and attack ads, the candidate's actions portray strikingly divergent views on their approach to women's issues.
Senator Barack Obama is a firm supporter of Roe v. Wade and the Freedom of Choice Act, which intends to codify the protections granted by Roe. Senator John McCain has clearly stated that Roe v. Wade should be overturned. McCain believes that the question of a woman's right to choose should be returned to the states and that the fight for life will be one of courage - "the courage of a pregnant mother to bring her child in the world." See here, here and here.
Obama supports funding for Planned Parenthood, McCain does not. Obama supports insurance coverage of prescription birth control, while Senator McCain voted against requiring health care plans to cover basic birth control. Obama supports emergency contraception for rape survivors, Senator McCain does not. Given 119 chances to support a women's right to choose and other reproductive issues, Senator McCain has voted no 115 times, including voting against spending $100 million to prevent unintended and teen pregnancies.
I also asked Katherine Grainger, the Vice President for Public Policy and Political Initiatives at NARAL Pro-Choice New York, what she thought about the candidates. Katherine says:
"A McCain/Palin administration would set women's equality and reproductive health back decades. McCain not only fails to support abortion rights, but also basic methods of prevention, like birth control, emergency contraception, and comprehensive sex-education. It is hard to imagine an America where women are worse off than they are after 8 years of George W. Bush - but a McCain/Palin victory will absolutely take things from bad to worse."
Obama has a record of addressing the impact of HIV/AIDS on women. Obama introduced the Microbicide Development Act, which would accelerate the development of products that empower women in the battle against AIDS. In contrast, McCain voted to earmark 1/3 of all HIV/AIDS prevention funds for abstinence only program.
In 1990 McCain voted against extending the Title X federal family planning program that provides health care services ranging from breast and cervical cancer screening to birth control to low-income and uninsured women.
McCain also voted no on legislation in 2005 that would have overturned the global gag rule. This rule bars foreign nongovernmental organizations from receiving U.S. family planning assistance if the organization provides abortion services or information or advocates for pro-choice laws and policies in its own country. Obama supports this legislation.
Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. Last year, the Supreme Court, in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., a now infamous ruling, made it even harder for women to break the glass ceiling. In that case, Lilly Ledbetter, a manager at Goodyear, was paid significantly less than her male counterparts, though she didn't find out until the end of her career. A 5-4 Supreme Court held that she couldn't sue Goodyear for discrimination because she didn't bring the lawsuit within 180 days of the first instance of discrimination, years earlier. Never mind that Lilly had no way of knowing because the pay disparity had been kept secret from her.
Obama supports the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that would reverse the Supreme Court and allow women, like Lilly, to hold their employers accountable for discrimination. Obama would also extend child care tax breaks to close the pay gap.
McCain is against the Fair Pay Act and offers no plan to close the pay gap.
What the Candidates Don't Say
There are some women's issues McCain is neither for nor against. Rather, he simply "can't recall" where he is on that issue or hasn't decided yet. When asked whether he supports requiring health care plans that cover Viagra to cover female contraception, McCain responded that he doesn't recall his vote. When pressed for how he would vote, he said that he did not have enough information on the issue to respond. McCain also stated that he doesn't know whether he supports or is against the government funding of contraception. Obama supports both.
Choice of Vice-President
Obama has chosen a running mate with a history of supporting women's issues. Senator Biden authored and passed the landmark Violence Against Women Act, the strongest legislation to date criminalizing domestic violence and holding batterers accountable. Biden voted yes on a bill providing $100M to reduce teen pregnancy by education and contraceptives and co-sponsored a bill ensuring access to and funding for contraception. Biden has also strongly supported the fight against breast cancer.
McCain's running mate, Governor Palin, has little if anything in her record to indicate where she stands on women's issues. What she has stated is that she is against the Fair Pay Act, and that she is pro-life, even in cases of rape or incest. Palin doesn't support the morning after pill under any circumstances. Although Palin stated in her interview with Katie Couric that she doesn't judge others, as vice-president, and someone who could become president, she would support the overturning of Roe v. Wade. She can say that she wouldn't judge others, but she would cast a vote that reflects her own personal values. It is difficult to understand how she can reconcile the two positions when her position on issues reflects her own personal values.
Governor Palin leads a state with the nation's highest rate of sexual assault. As Mayor of Wasilla, Palin allowed the city to bill sexual assault victims and their insurance companies for the cost of rape kits and forensic examinations. Hers was the only town in Alaska to allow this. There is nothing in her record that indicates a pro-active effort to reduce the number of sexual assaults in her home state to address this crisis.
The upcoming vice-presidential debate, and remaining two presidential debates, will focus on national issues, including these "social issues". When discussing their positions on these social issues, both Governor Palin and Senator McCain have tended to state in interviews that although these are their personal beliefs, and they do not judge others. But their record, or in Governor Palin's case, lack thereof, indicate that their policies do reflect their personal beliefs. The choices all of the candidates have made in the course of their public service have been a reflection of their beliefs. There is no reason to believe that they would act any differently than they have in the past when they become president and vice-president.
OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the policy differences between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama. If you have a policy expertise and would like to participate, please see Calling All Policy Gurus.