What Would a Women’s Issues Debate Look Like?

Sarah Seltzer

Grab your popcorn and get ready to bang your head against the wall -- debate season is in full swing. Rewire envisions the questions we wish the candidates would face before an audience of millions.

Grab your popcorn and get ready to bang your head against the wall. Debate season is in full swing. We know that the questions pertaining to domestic women’s issues during these four televised verbal jousts will be slim to none. We can expect a “litmus test” Supreme Court nomination question, an equal pay for equal work question, and if we’re lucky, a sex ed question. But the range, and depth of the questions, will leave us panting for more.

Like our colleagues at ThisIsWhatWomenWant.com and Women’s eNews, we at Rewire thought we’d envision the questions we wished the candidates could face before an audience of millions. Preferrably, they’d be asked by Rachel Maddow, Campbell Brown, and Gwen Ifill teaming up in a cross-network collaboration, while the usual crowd of male pundits sat on the sidelines. But regardless of who’s asking them, these are the questions we want to see.

Feel free to add your own ideas for questions — and how you’d like to see them answered — in the comments section.

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  1. The teen birth rate increased in 2007 for the first time in years. We currently have the highest teen pregnancy rate of all developed nations. To what do you ascribe these trends, and what would you do to
    address the issue of teen pregnancy?
  2. While many people disagree on the issue of abortion rights, no one can argue that abortions are almost always a result of unplanned pregnancies. What are some steps you would take to lower the number of unplanned pregnancies? Do you believe that barrier contraception — aka condoms — stops the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections? Is this information important, and should it be given to teens as part of federally-funded sex education?
  3. Do you believe that scientific evidence suggests contraception is the same thing as abortion?
    How would you respond to groups that want government agencies to classify it as such?
  4. The United States ranks 41st in maternal mortality. How do your health plans address improving health outcomes for American mothers given the fact that maternal mortality rates in this country have flat-lined in recent years?
  5. One of the unfortunate side effects of recent immigration-related legislation has been to block off basic health care to many women living within our borders. What measures would you take as president, under your healthcare plan or otherwise, to secure access to reproductive health services, for immigrant women, who often face extra hurdles–including discrimination or threat of deportation–in getting the essential care they need?
  6. (For Senator McCain): In the past, you have stated that you believe abortion should be legal in the cases of incest and rape. Your party platform and your running mate have stated they don’t believe there should be such an exception. What would your position be as president on these exceptions and how would you justify it?
  7. (For Senator Obama): Can you clarify your position on whether a health exception for a late-term abortion ban would include a mental health exception, and what that would mean?

Women’s Equality

  1. While women have made strides in the workplace in recent years, their average salary still lingers below men’s. How do you intend to ensure that women have equal pay?
  2. (For Senator McCain): You voted against the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and said you believe the key to pay advancement is more education for women. With women now graduating college at a higher rate than men, to what do you attribute the enduring pay gap?
  3. Statistics show that women, particularly women of color, are hardest hit by poverty. With the economy in a state of near-collapse, what would you do to address the issue of poverty and help these women — often the sole breadwinners in their families-swim against the tide?
  4. Solving the current health care crisis is particularly crucial women, who need regular and fairly frequent reproductive care. How would your health care plan enable women to live fuller lives without worrying about health care costs? Do you believe that insurance companies should be required to cover contraception?
  5. As president, would you seek to expand or reduce the scope of the Family and Medical Leave Act? Why
    or why not? What is your early childhood education plan, how would you fund and enact it, and how do you envision that plan affecting women’s lives?
  6. What is your plan to combat the alarming growth of HIV/AIDS in America, specifically among black women?

Cultural Issues

  1. What is sexism in your mind and what is one instance you’ve noticed on the campaign trail? What role can a president play in combating cultural sexism?
  2. Who are some of your female role models? Who are some female role models you’d like your daughters
    to emulate?

As we head into the debates full speed ahead, it’s interesting to note that up until now, some of the toughest grilling of candidates on women’s issues had come from seemingly unlikely sources. Both the infamous interview with McCain on “The View” and the interviews with both candidates in the October issue of Glamour are more informative and hard-hitting than a lot of what you’ll see on mainstream networks — particularly when it comes to women’s issues. It will be interesting to see whether the debate moderators take their cue from these women’s media outlets, and probe below the surface of issues that matter to American women.

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