No Crystal Ball — Still, We Wonder

Erica C. Barnett

What would a Clinton or Obama presidency look like for women? And would one such presidency be better than another? Has any moment in the campaign to this point revealed which candidate might better prioritize women’s health and rights when in office?

What would a Clinton or Obama presidency look like for women? And would one such presidency be better for women than another?

During his two terms as president, George W. Bush has done everything in his power to erode the rights of women in this country and abroad — opposing access to emergency contraception; supporting two of the most anti-choice Supreme Court justices in history; promoting harmful abstinence-only sex education programs; and supporting legislation that would redefine embryos as human beings whose rights trump those of pregnant women. For nearly eight years, the Bush administration has put women's needs last; eroded our rights in the name of "values;" and put us at risk of unintended pregnancy, violence, and disease.

But this election offers the first opportunity in a very long time to reverse Bush's anti-woman legacy. If Obama's momentum, at the moment, seems unstoppable, a strong showing in Ohio and Texas could keep Clinton in the race until August. No matter what happens in the primaries, Democrats will have a candidate with a strong pro-choice, pro-woman record in November. While presumptive Republican nominee John McCain has consistently received zero-percent ratings from every pro-choice organization that ranks candidates, both Clinton and Obama have received 100-percent ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood.

The Democratic candidates' records give a good indication why. As First Lady and a US senator, Clinton has built her reputation fighting for women's rights. A comprehensive list of Clinton's pro-choice proposals would take pages, so here are a few of the highlights: As First Lady, she helped pass the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires employers to provide unpaid leave to care for newborn babies or family members, and helped found the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancies, which set and achieved a goal of reducing teen pregnancies by one third. As senator, Clinton led the fight, in a hostile Republican-dominated Congress, to make emergency contraception available over the counter. She led the battle against the confirmation of anti-choice Supreme Court nominees John Roberts and Samuel Alito, arguing in Alito's case that the nominee would "roll back decades of progress" for women. She led the fight in the Senate to get rid of the global gag rule, which prohibits US funding for overseas groups that use funding from other sources to provide abortions or abortion counseling, and has vowed to devote her "very first days in office" to overturning that decision.

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Currently, women make just 77 cents for every dollar earned by men. To help address this inequity, Clinton sponsored the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would help prevent pay discrimination against women and give women tools to fight for pay equity. She cosponsored legislation to add the Equal Rights Amendment to the US constitution. And she has been a strong proponent of real sex education, sponsoring legislation (along with Obama) that would replace failed "abstinence-only" sex ed with comprehensive, medically accurate curricula.

Barack Obama's record on reproductive rights and other issues that matter to women is undeniably shorter than Clinton's, though similarly consistent and unshirking. In the Illinois state senate, Obama opposed the Illinois Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which would have defined a fetus as a child, saying it would "essentially bar abortions"; voted against a statewide ban on "partial-birth abortion"; and supported legislation requiring insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives. As a US senator, he cosponsored, along with Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, legislation that would restore birth control discounts for low-income and college women. He also cosponsored (along with Clinton) the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade as the law of the land. When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions, Obama was the only US senator to help raise money to repeal the ban. He sponsored legislation that would effectively overturn a recent Supreme Court decision that curtails the ability of women and racial minorities to challenge past pay discrimination. He introduced the Responsible Fathers and Healthy Families Act, which would crack down on fathers who don't pay child support, fund support services for fathers and families, and support domestic violence prevention. And he cosponsored renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which funds domestic-violence prevention efforts.

Has any moment in the campaign to this point revealed which candidate might better prioritize women's health and rights when in office? As befits their records in Congress, both senators have vowed to put women front and center in the Oval Office. But last month, on the thirty-fifth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Clinton released a comprehensive agenda for women's reproductive health care. Clinton's agenda demonstrates her understanding of the vastness, and critical importance, of the reproductive health issues on which President Bush has either stalled or rolled back progress. She has committed to appointing judges who will uphold a woman's right to choose; enacting the Freedom of Choice Act, which would codify a woman's right to obtain an abortion; expanding Title X, the 32-year-old national family-planning program, which Bush has frozen at 2001 levels for the past eight years; requiring health care plans to pay for contraception; restoring discounts for birth control on college campuses; and providing women stationed at overseas military bases the same level of reproductive health care as every US citizen. Both Clinton and Obama have vowed to expand the Family Medical Leave Act to cover millions more Americans. Clinton has stated that she will implement paid family-leave programs in every state within the next eight years, expand block-grant programs that pay for child care, and prohibit employer discrimination against parents. Both she and Obama say they will require US employers to pay for seven annual days of sick leave.

The two candidates have both pledged to get serious on health care, but Sen. Clinton is the candidate proposing universal health care. For women, including the one in five women under 65 who are currently uninsured, this may be her most significant priority. Economists and pundits differ over whether Obama's eschewing of mandates will doom his health care plan or not. Obama claims that in states that have universal coverage (Massachusetts, Oregon), mandates haven't worked, but Clinton counters that it's a strength of her plan that she's not giving away universal coverage before the bargaining begins. Universal health care is a universal issue, but it's also a women's issue, because women without insurance are vulnerable to unintended pregnancy, undetected cancer, and other preventable health care problems; more likely to avoid filling prescriptions and to forgo needed health care, including preventive care such as heart disease screenings, mammograms and Pap smears; and more likely to be diagnosed late and die early.

Obama's priorities are similar to Clinton's — with a few differences of emphasis that are attractive to some feminists. As president, he has vowed to raise the raise the minimum wage — and, importantly, to link it to inflation. Women make up 58 percent of minimum-wage earners, at least one million of them single mothers. He has also proposed doubling funding for after-school programs; expanding child tax credits; expanding the Nurse-Family Partnership, which provides home visits to low-income first-time expectant mothers. And he has consistently opposed the war in Iraq, an issue of huge concern to many American women, vowing to pull all combat troops out of Iraq within 16 months. Clinton has also spoken out against the war and issued a timetable for troop withdrawals, but her vote for the war in 2003 and the perception that she is more hawkish than Obama has made many women, particularly pro-peace feminists, oppose her (At Women's eNews, Allison Stevens takes a close look at this phenomenon).

There are good reasons to pull for either of these candidates, and convincing arguments in each candidate's favor. What every advocate for women's rights can agree on, however, is that the next president must end eight years of backsliding on women's rights and restore women's issues to their rightful place at the top of his or her presidential agenda.

Commentary Contraception

Hillary Clinton Played a Critical Role in Making Emergency Contraception More Accessible

Susan Wood

Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second-chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Clinton helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

In the midst of election-year talk and debates about political controversies, we often forget examples of candidates’ past leadership. But we must not overlook the ways in which Hillary Clinton demonstrated her commitment to women’s health before she became the Democratic presidential nominee. In early 2008, I wrote the following article for Rewirewhich has been lightly edited—from my perspective as a former official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about the critical role that Clinton, then a senator, had played in making the emergency contraception method Plan B available over the counter. She demanded that reproductive health benefits and the best available science drive decisions at the FDA, not politics. She challenged the Bush administration and pushed the Democratic-controlled Senate to protect the FDA’s decision making from political interference in order to help women get access to EC.

Since that time, Plan B and other emergency contraception pills have become fully over the counter with no age or ID requirements. Despite all the controversy, women at risk of unintended pregnancy finally can get timely access to another method of contraception if they need it—such as in cases of condom failure or sexual assault. By 2010, according to National Center for Health Statistics data, 11 percent of all sexually experienced women ages 15 to 44 had ever used EC, compared with only 4 percent in 2002. Indeed, nearly one-quarter of all women ages 20 to 24 had used emergency contraception by 2010.

As I stated in 2008, “All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.”

Now, there are new emergency contraceptive pills (Ella) available by prescription, women have access to insurance coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, and there is progress in making some regular contraceptive pills available over the counter, without prescription. Yet extreme calls for defunding Planned Parenthood, the costs and lack of coverage of over-the-counter EC, and refusals by some pharmacies to stock emergency contraception clearly demonstrate that politicization of science and limits to our access to contraception remain a serious problem.

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Today, women are able to access emergency contraception, a safe, second chance option for preventing unintended pregnancy in a timely manner without a prescription. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) helped make this happen, and I can tell the story from having watched it unfold.

Although stories about reproductive health and politicization of science have made headlines recently, stories of how these problems are solved are less often told. On August 31, 2005 I resigned my position as assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because the agency was not allowed to make its decisions based on the science or in the best interests of the public’s health. While my resignation was widely covered by the media, it would have been a hollow gesture were there not leaders in Congress who stepped in and demanded more accountability from the FDA.

I have been working to improve health care for women and families in the United States for nearly 20 years. In 2000, I became the director of women’s health for the FDA. I was rather quietly doing my job when the debate began in 2003 over whether or not emergency contraception should be provided over the counter (OTC). As a scientist, I knew the facts showed that this medication, which can be used after a rape or other emergency situations, prevents an unwanted pregnancy. It does not cause an abortion, but can help prevent the need for one. But it only works if used within 72 hours, and sooner is even better. Since it is completely safe, and many women find it impossible to get a doctor’s appointment within two to three days, making emergency contraception available to women without a prescription was simply the right thing to do. As an FDA employee, I knew it should have been a routine approval within the agency.

Plan B emergency contraception is just like birth control pills—it is not the “abortion pill,” RU-486, and most people in the United States don’t think access to safe and effective contraception is controversial. Sadly, in Congress and in the White House, there are many people who do oppose birth control. And although this may surprise you, this false “controversy” not only has affected emergency contraception, but also caused the recent dramatic increase in the cost of birth control pills on college campuses, and limited family planning services across the country.  The reality is that having more options for contraception helps each of us make our own decisions in planning our families and preventing unwanted pregnancies. This is something we can all agree on.

Meanwhile, inside the walls of the FDA in 2003 and 2004, the Bush administration continued to throw roadblocks at efforts to approve emergency contraception over the counter. When this struggle became public, I was struck by the leadership that Hillary Clinton displayed. She used the tools of a U.S. senator and fought ardently to preserve the FDA’s independent scientific decision-making authority. Many other senators and congressmen agreed, but she was the one who took the lead, saying she simply wanted the FDA to be able to make decisions based on its public health mission and on the medical evidence.

When it became clear that FDA scientists would continue to be overruled for non-scientific reasons, I resigned in protest in late 2005. I was interviewed by news media for months and traveled around the country hoping that many would stand up and demand that FDA do its job properly. But, although it can help, all the media in the world can’t make Congress or a president do the right thing.

Sen. Clinton made the difference. The FDA suddenly announced it would approve emergency contraception for use without a prescription for women ages 18 and older—one day before FDA officials were to face a determined Sen. Clinton and her colleague Sen. Murray (D-WA) at a Senate hearing in 2006. No one was more surprised than I was. All those who benefited from this decision should know it may not have happened were it not for Hillary Clinton.

Sometimes these success stories get lost in the “horse-race stories” about political campaigns and the exposes of taxpayer-funded bridges to nowhere, and who said what to whom. This story of emergency contraception at the FDA is just one story of many. Sen. Clinton saw a problem that affected people’s lives. She then stood up to the challenge and worked to solve it.

The challenges we face in health care, our economy, global climate change, and issues of war and peace, need to be tackled with experience, skills and the commitment to using the best available science and evidence to make the best possible policy.  This will benefit us all.

News Politics

Ohio Legislator: ‘Aggressive Attacks’ May Block Voters From the Polls

Ally Boguhn

Efforts to remove voters from state rolls and curb access to the polls could have an outsized impact in Ohio, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership.

Ohio Rep. Kathleen Clyde (D-Kent) said she is worried about the impact of what she called “aggressive attacks” on voting rights in her state.

Ohio voters who have not engaged in voter activity in a fixed period of time, generally two years, are considered by the state to have moved, which then begins the process of removing them from their rolls through something called the “Supplemental Process.” If a voter fails to respond to a postcard mailed to them to confirm their address, they become “inactive voters.” If an inactive voter does not engage in voter activity for four years, they’re automatically unregistered to vote and must re-register to cast a ballot. 

Though other states routinely clean voting rolls, most don’t use failure to vote as a reason to remove someone.

“We have two million voters purged from the rolls in the last five years, many in the last four years since the last presidential election,” Clyde said during an interview with Rewire

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Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted (R) dismissed concerns of the voter purges’ impact during an interview with Reuters. “If this is really important thing to you in your life, voting, you probably would have done so within a six-year period,” he said.

Ohio’s removal of voters through this process “is particularly problematic in the lead-up to the November 2016 federal election because voters who voted in the high-turnout 2008 federal election (but who did not vote in any subsequent elections) were removed from voter rolls in 2015,” according to an amicus curiae brief filed by the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Civil Rights division in support of those who filed suit against Ohio’s law. 

The DOJ has urged the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse a lower court’s ruling in favor of the state, writing that Ohio’s voter purge violates the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and the Help America Vote Act of 2002.

Since 2012, at least 144,000 voters have been removed from Ohio’s voter rolls in its three biggest counties, Reuters reported. The secretary of state’s office said 2 million registered voters had been taken off the rolls in the past five years, though many had been removed because they were deceased.

Husted contends that he is just enforcing the law. “Ohio manages its voter rolls in direct compliance of both federal and state laws, and is consistent with an agreement in this same federal court just four years ago,” Husted said in an April statement after the ACLU of Ohio and Demos, a voting rights organization, filed a lawsuit in the matter.

In predominantly Black neighborhoods near downtown Cincinnati, “more than 10 percent of registered voters have been removed due to inactivity since 2012,” reported Reuters. The outlet found that several places where more voters had cast ballots for President Obama in 2012 were the same locations experiencing higher percentages of purged voters.

“Some of the data is showing that African Americans voters and Democratic voters were much more likely affected,” Clyde said when discussing the state’s purge of registered voters. 

Clyde has requested data on those purged from the rolls, but has been turned down twice. “They’ve said no in two different ways and are referring me to the boards of elections, but there are 88 boards of election,” she told RewireWith limited staff resources to devote to data collection, Clyde is still searching for a way to get answers.

In the meantime, many otherwise eligible voters may have their votes thrown away and never know it.

“[P]eople that had been purged often don’t know that they’ve been purged, so they may show up to vote and find their name isn’t on the roll,” Clyde said. “Then, typically that voter is given a provisional ballot and … told that the board of elections will figure out the problem with their voter registration. And then they don’t really receive notice that that provisional ballot doesn’t eventually count.” 

Though the state’s voter purges could continue to disenfranchise voters across the state, it is hardly the only effort that may impact voting rights there.

“There have been a number of efforts undertaken by the GOP in Ohio to make voting more difficult,” Clyde said. “That includes fighting to shorten the number of early voting days available, that includes fighting to throw out people’s votes that have been cast—whether it be a provisional ballot or absentee ballot—and that includes purging more voters than any other state.” 

This could make a big difference for voters in the state, which has seen a surge of anti-choice legislation under the state’s Republican leadership—including failed Republican presidential candidate Gov. John Kasich.

“So aside from the terrible effect that has on the fundamental right to vote in Ohio, progressives who maybe are infrequent voters or are seeing what’s happening around [reproductive rights and health] issues and want to express that through their vote may experience problems in Ohio because of these aggressive attacks on voting rights,” Clyde said. 

“From our presidential candidates on down to our candidates for the state legislature, there is a lot at stake when it comes to reproductive health care and reproductive rights in this election,” Clyde added. “So I think that, if that is an issue that is important to any Ohioan, they need to have their voice heard in this election.” 

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