It would be an understatement to say that the coming 2016 election is important. In fact, it may just be our most consequential election in generations. Hanging in the balance is the future of civil justice in the US, the fate of the shrinking middle class, attempts at campaign finance reform, tax policy, and whether healthcare is a right or a privilege.
But if you really want to know how a presidential candidate sees the world, look no further than their opinions on women’s healthcare. This issue has become a sort of litmus test – one we can use to see which candidates are in touch with reality and which are not.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the current stable of frontrunners, and their commitment (or lack of same) to the women of this country.
Bernie Sanders (Democrat)
If you’re looking for a presidential candidate with a lifelong track record of defending women, you can’t do much better than Bernie Sanders. He’s one of the strongest voices in this country calling for paid family leave for new mothers and fathers. To put this issue in perspective, not that more than 20 developed countries guarantees between 10 and 30 days off for new parents, while the US guarantees none.
Senator Sanders also strongly supports a woman’s Right to Choose, has roundly condemned the GOP-led attack on Planned Parenthood, and has been calling for legislation that would guarantee women equal pay for equal work.
Hillary Clinton (Democrat)
It’s no secret: Hillary Clinton is the leading candidate among women – and with good reason. She’s uniquely qualified to speak to, and defend, the right of women everywhere to decide what happens to their bodies.
Hillary Clinton is a strong supporter of the Affordable Care Act – including its controversial birth control mandate, which would require employers and health insurance companies to cover the cost of birth control for women. And, though her plan lacks specifics, she’s joined Senator Sanders in supporting paid family leave in the US.
Donald Trump (Republican)
We’re well past pretending that Donald Trump isn’t a viable candidate, so here we are. When he placed a call to the women of The View in a recent piece of ill-fated publicity, Trump said proudly that he “cherish[es] women” and that he has “great respect for women.”
Unfortunately, his stance on the issues belies those claims. The show’s hosts were quick to suggest that Trump “study up” on the issues and then reconsider his stance.
Why? Because Trump doesn’t respect or cherish women enough to grant them the Right to Choose, and has thrown his weight behind the spurious claims that abortion “is a tremendous amount of the work they [Planned Parenthood] do.” In point of fact, abortions account for just 3% or so of Planned Parenthood’s services, taking a distant backseat to STD testing, contraception, counseling, and cancer screening.
Ben Carson (Republican)
More frightening, even, than Donald Trump’s grandstanding, is Ben Carson’s ignorance. For a man who has staked his reputation and livelihood on science and medicine, his opinions on women’s healthcare are practically medieval.
Despite having taken part in fetal stem cell research as a doctor, and fully understanding the boundless medical potential it represents, Carson has joined the rest of the GOP field in condemning abortion, even in the event that rape or incest has taken place.
Furthermore, unlike his rivals on the Democratic side of the aisle, who recognize that the Affordable Care Act is a great stride forward for women’s healthcare, Ben Carson has roundly condemned the law, claiming that it’s about “restriction and control,” and even going so far as to call it “the worst thing since slavery.” He’s either pandering to his audience or he’s totally clueless – but that’s for the American voters to decide.
Marco Rubio (Republican)
Finally, we arrive at Marco Rubio. Rubio is a fresh face in politics; he’s only been a Senator for about four years, and like any senior in college, it shows: his poor attendance record is one for the history books.
Like Carson, Rubio finds himself at the center of a tangled web of contradictions and misinformation. During this campaign season, he’s claimed repeatedly that rape victims don’t require exceptions to abortion bans thanks to emergency contraception. Meanwhile, he’s actively blocked women from accessing that same sort of contraception.
This is, of course, an obvious contradiction to an interview he gave with NBC’s Chuck Todd, in which he claimed he would “support any legislation that reduces the number of abortions.” It’s clear to anybody in touch with reality that access to responsible sex education, and to low-cost contraceptives, could have an enormous impact on the already-small number of abortions performed in the US in a given year.
Still, Rubio has fought tooth and nail to defeat the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate by lending his support to the Blunt Amendment, which would allow both employers and insurance companies from denying women access to birth control.
If it’s not clear by now, women’s health issues are going to be front-and-center as this all-important election draws closer. Unfortunately, there seems to be an epidemic in America of citizens voting against their personal interests, and this extends to women’s issues as well.
Hopefully, this look at the leading candidates has been illuminating. We may once have had the privilege of assuming our public servants held everybody’s well-being in equal importance, but those days are long behind us.