Candidates Answer Our Questions (Or Don’t)

Andrea Lynch

Don't know what the presidential candidates think about reproductive health beyond their position on Roe? Rewire developed a questionnaire to help sort out the contenders' positions on sexual and reproductive health -- beyond the sole issue of abortion. The candidates respond -- but most don't.

When it comes to reproductive health and rights in the current political climate, differentiating between candidates of similar political persuasions can be a daunting task. Between the parties, some patterns emerge: the Democratic candidates, for example, tend to focus on declaring their support for Roe v. Wade, usually based on the argument that women have a right to privacy and a right to make decisions about their own bodies. The Republican candidates, on the other hand, tend to focus on their opposition to Roe v. Wade, usually based on the argument that abortion is a state's issue at best and a premeditated murder at worst. But when did the candidates' views on Roe v. Wade become the exclusive test of their commitment to sexual and reproductive health? The longer our national conversation focuses on the one-dimensional poles of support for or opposition to Roe, the further it drifts from the nuances and contradictions amidst which people actually live their lives and make their decisions, and the less relevant it becomes for those who have grown tired of hearing politicians glorify or vilify the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision.

As important as it is to know where the candidates stand on the issue of safe and legal abortion, we need a broader conversation: one that also addresses what women and couples need to prevent unintended pregnancies, and what women and couples need to carry wanted pregnancies to term, for starters. But we also need a national conversation that pays attention to the particular challenges facing adolescents and low-income women, that acknowledges the importance of basing health policies on science rather than ideology, and that examines how U.S. policies impact the sexual and reproductive health of women overseas. It's only when we start having these conversations as a routine part of the political process that we will begin building the culture of reproductive justice that we all truly deserve.

In October, Rewire developed a questionnaire for the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, designed to help our readers distinguish between the various contenders' positions on sexual and reproductive health and rights — beyond the sole issue of abortion. We sent each campaign a 14-question form, inviting them either to complete it or to participate in our feature in some other way — for example, by submitting a statement, answering selected questions, or granting us a brief interview. We contacted the headquarters of each campaign, and in some cases, we also reached out to the Iowa headquarters.

Our questions were designed to get under the surface of the candidates' rhetoric on reproductive rights and clarify how far each one was willing to go to support concrete policy changes to back up his or her stated beliefs. For example, what specific measures would the candidates put into place to ensure support for women who choose to become mothers (prenatal care, maternity leave, childcare, healthcare for children)? If elected president, would they continue to allow federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, despite studies that have called those programs' effectiveness and ethics into question? Would they continue to allow public funding for crisis pregnancy centers, despite evidence that they actively misinform pregnant women? All of the candidates have something to say about healthcare, but how would each of their healthcare plans specifically address sexual and reproductive health, family planning, pregnancy, and HIV/AIDS? Did the candidates who supported women's right to access contraception also support contraceptive equity in insurance coverage? We also asked all of the candidates to clarify their position on adolescents' right to access confidential reproductive health and family planning services, including their right to access emergency contraception over-the-counter (young people under 18 currently need a prescription for EC). We also asked them whether, if elected president, they would pledge to overturn the Global Gag Rule or reinstate funding for UNFPA.

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Of course, we did also have some specific questions about safe and legal abortion, in an effort to move the discussion beyond an exclusive focus on Roe v. Wade. All of the Democratic candidates identify as "pro-choice," but we were curious to hear how many believed that federal Medicaid should continue to deny low-income women funds for safe and legal abortions, and we also wanted to know if they supported parental consent laws for adolescents. Among the Republican candidates who have said they believe that Roe should be overturned, we wanted to know if there were any circumstances under which they felt abortion should remain legal (if a woman's life of health were in danger, for example, or if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest)? What kinds of penalties did they support for women who sought illegal abortions? Did candidates who opposed abortion also oppose contraception and comprehensive sexuality education? And did candidates who advocated increased adoptions as a means to "reduce the abortion rate" support equal adoption rights for gay and lesbian couples?

Great questions, right? Now, the bad news…among the Republican presidential candidates, Sen. McCain's and Mayor Giuliani's campaigns were the only ones to respond to our requests. Representatives from Sen. McCain's campaign confirmed receipt of the questionnaire and told us that they were working on it, but after several follow-up phone calls and emails, we never received the completed questionnaire. Mayor Giuliani's campaign declined to participate, stating that the campaign did not do questionnaires. Our invitation to participate in an alternative form went unanswered. Representatives from Gov. Huckabee's, Rep. Paul's, Gov. Romney's, Rep. Tancredo's, and Sen. Thompson's campaigns never responded to our phone calls and emails.

On the Democrats' side, we received completed questionnaires from Sen. Edwards's and Sen. Obama's campaigns, and Sen. Dodd's campaign submitted a statement. Unfortunately, due to a technical mix-up, we were not able to deliver a questionnaire to Rep. Kucinich's campaign until very recently, which did not allow sufficient time for it to be completed. As a result, we have agreed to post Rep. Kucinich's responses as part of a supplementary feature, if and when we receive them. Sen. Biden's campaign declined to complete the questionnaire or otherwise participate in the feature. After initial contact was made with a member of the press team at Sen. Clinton's Iowa headquarters, repeat follow-up emails and phone calls went unanswered. We also made contact with representatives from the national headquarters of Gov. Richardson's and Sen. Gravel's campaigns, but in the end, neither of the campaigns were able to meet our deadline.

We're grateful to the candidates who took the time to respond to our requests, and we wish that we had more information to share, but the silence of the majority is a statement in itself. Yes, the campaigns are busy, but an informed citizenry is part of the democratic process, and our leaders and aspiring leaders have a responsibility to be accountable to their current and future constituents. Perhaps the campaigns feel that the political risks associated with clarifying their candidates' positions on "controversial" reproductive rights issues outweigh the political benefits of staying silent. But the benefits are just that: political. Reproductive health may be controversial, but it's not a special interest: it's a basic human right. And democracy depends not just on voting, but on building and maintaining a culture of dialogue, debate, and transparency between citizens and their elected representatives. Anyone aspiring to hold public office should embrace, rather than avoid, the responsibilities implicit in such a culture.

Summaries of the participating candidates' answers, in addition to links to their completed questionnaires and statements, can be found below. For the candidates who declined to participate, we have provided brief summaries of anything in their public record or available literature that could give a sense of how they might have answered the questions we asked. More information about all of the candidates, with a particular focus on their records and rhetoric concerning sexual and reproductive health and rights, can be found in our Election 2008 coverage.

Check out Sen. John Edwards's completed questionnaire.

Check out Sen. Barack Obama's completed questionnaire.

Read the statement from Sen. Chris Dodd's campaign.

What about the Democratic contenders who didn't respond to our questionnaire? We did their homework for them, mining through their previous public statements to find their positions, right here.

And the Republicans? Concrete information on the Republican candidates' positions and commitments on reproductive health and rights is harder to come by, since their websites generally only include information about the issue of abortion. But here's what we were able to come up with.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Tim Kaine Outlines Plan to ‘Make Housing Fair’

Ally Boguhn

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It's part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Donald Trump made some controversial changes to his campaign staff this week, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) noted his commitment to better housing policies.

Trump Hires Controversial Conservative Media Figure

Republican presidential nominee Trump made two notable additions to his campaign staff this week, hiring Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon as CEO and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” said Trump in a Wednesday statement announcing the hires. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

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Both have been criticized as being divisive figures.

Conway, for example, previously advised then-client Todd Akin to wait out the backlash after his notorious “legitimate rape” comments, comparing the controversy to “the Waco with David Koresh situation where they’re trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams.” According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Conway is also “often cited by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim organizations such as the think tank Center for Security Policy and NumbersUSA.”

Under Bannon’s leadership, “mainstream conservative website” Breitbart.com changed “into a cesspool of the alt-right,” suggested the publication’s former editor at large, Ben Shapiro, in a piece for the Washington Post‘s PostEverything. “It’s a movement shot through with racism and anti-Semitism.”

Speaking with ABC News this week, Kurt Bardella, who also previously worked with Bannon at Breitbart, alleged that Bannon had exhibited “nationalism and hatred for immigrants, people coming into this country to try to get a better life for themselves” during editorial calls.

“If anyone sat there and listened to that call, you’d think that you were attending a white supremacist rally,” said Bardella.

Trump’s new hire drew heated criticism from the Clinton campaign in a Wednesday press call. “The Breitbart organization has been known to defend white supremacists,” said Robby Mook, Clinton’s campaign manager. After pointing to an analysis from the SPLC linking Breitbart to the extremist alt-right movement, Mook listed a number of other controversial positions pushed by the site.

“Breitbart has compared the work of Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust. They’ve also repeatedly used anti-LGBT slurs in their coverage. And finally, like Trump himself, Breitbart and Bannon have frequently trafficked in all sorts of deranged conspiracy theories from touting that President Obama was not born in America to claiming that the Obama Administration was ‘importing more hating Muslims.’”

“It’s clear that [Trump’s] divisive, erratic, and dangerous rhetoric simply represents who he really is,” continued Mook.

Kaine Outlines Plan to “Make Housing Fair”

Clinton’s vice presidential nominee Kaine wrote an essay for CNN late last week explaining how the Clinton-Kaine ticket can “make housing fair” in the United States.

“A house is more than just a place to sleep. It’s part of the foundation on which a family can build a life,” wrote Kaine. “Where you live determines the jobs you can find, the schools your children can attend, the air you breathe and the opportunities you have. And when you are blocked from living where you want, it cuts to the core of who you are.”

Kaine shared the story of Lorraine, a young Black woman who had experienced housing discrimination, whom Kaine had represented pro bono just after completing law school.

“This is one issue that shows the essential role government can play in creating a fairer society. Sen. Ed Brooke, an African-American Republican from Massachusetts, and Sen. Walter Mondale, a white Democrat from Minnesota, came together to draft the Fair Housing Act, which protects people from discrimination in the housing market,” noted Kaine, pointing to the 1968 law.

“Today, more action is still needed. That’s why Hillary Clinton and I have a bold, progressive plan to fight housing inequities across Americaespecially in communities that have been left out or left behind,” Kaine continued.

The Virginia senator outlined some of the key related components of Clinton’s “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda,” including an initiative to offer $10,000 in down payment assistance to new homebuyers that earn less than the median income in a given area, and plans to “bolster resources to enforce Fair Housing laws and fight housing discrimination in all its forms.”

The need for fair and affordable housing is a pressing issue for people throughout the country.

“It is estimated that each year more than four million acts of [housing] discrimination occur in the rental market alone,” found a 2015 analysis by the National Fair Housing Alliance.

No county in the United States has enough affordable housing to accommodate the needs of those with low incomes, according to a 2015 report released by the Urban Institute. “Since 2000, rents have risen while the number of renters who need low-priced housing has increased,” explained the report. “Nationwide, only 28 adequate and affordable units are available for every 100 renter households with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median income.”

What Else We’re Reading

CBS News’ Will Rahn penned a primer explaining Trump campaign CEO Bannon’s relationship to the alt-right.

White supremacists and the alt-right “rejoice[d]” after Trump hired Bannon, reported Betsy Woodruff and Gideon Resnick for the Daily Beast.

Clinton published an essay in Teen Vogue this week encouraging young people to fight for what they care about, learn from those with whom they disagree, and get out the vote.

“In calling for ‘extreme vetting’ of foreigners entering the United States, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump suggested a return to a 1950s-era immigration standard—since abandoned—that barred entry to people based on their political beliefs,” explained USA Today.

Trump wants to cut a visa program “his own companies have used … to bring in hundreds of foreign workers, including fashion models for his modeling agency who need exhibit no special skills,” according to a report by the New York Times.

A Koch-backed group “has unleashed an aggressive campaign to kill a ballot measure in South Dakota that would require Koch-affiliated groups and others like them to reveal their donors’ identities.”

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