It’s Time for a Real Debate on Issues That Impact Women and Families

By Andrea Flynn, Marybeth Seitz-Brown |

Over the course of the long presidential primary and the general election, there have been remarkably few debate questions regarding issues that disproportionately impact women and families. Yet women are a critical voting bloc: The single women’s vote helped usher Obama into his second term, and women are, after all, half the population. Not to mention Hillary is the first female major party nominee in history. So it seems reasonable to request that the moderators ask the candidates what they’d do for women—particularly women of color—as well as their families and members of the LGBT community. Here are a few questions we’d suggest for the remaining debates:

  1. Mr. Trump, you recently proposed making birth control available over the counter. But you have also promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act if you become president. The ACA has mandated insurance coverage of all FDA-approved methods of birth control and has enabled nearly 50 million women to access contraception without any out-of-pocket costs. Under your proposed plan, how would you guarantee that birth control be affordable to all people who need and want it, given the fact that most insurance companies will only pay for drugs that are obtained with a prescription?
  1. Before the ACA was implemented, women were routinely charged higher rates because of their gender and were denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, which often included childbirth. How would each of you address the issue of pre-existing conditions and gender discrimination in your health plans? How would you make sure trans people receive the medical care they need free from bias?
  1. The United States is one of the only countries in the world in which the maternal mortality rate is rising. New research shows that more U.S. women die in childbirth and from pregnancy-related causes than at almost any point in the last 25 years, and that black women are three to four times as likely to die from these causes as white women. Mothers in Iran, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Serbia, and Greece—among many other countries—have a better chance of surviving pregnancy than do women in the United States. What concrete steps would you take to address this health crisis?
  1. Since 2011, states have enacted more than 200 restrictions on abortion. The Supreme Court recently ruled such restrictions in Texas to be unconstitutional because they posed an undue burden on people who wanted to access the procedure. As president, how would you restrict or protect access to abortion?
  1. President Obama recently proposed a rule that would prevent states from banning Planned Parenthood from receiving federal family planning funding. Would you keep this rule in place? If not, how would your administration shape federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other health providers focused on reproductive healthcare?
  1. Both of your campaigns have recently released plans for paid family leave programs. Secretary Clinton’s plan would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to both parents of a newborn child while Mr. Trump’s would provide six weeks of paid leave to mothers only. I’d like for you to explain details of your plans to the American people. Secretary Clinton, why did you include both parents, and Mr. Trump, why did you only include mothers? How would your plans be paid for? Would contract and part-time workers have access to benefits or only full-time employees?
  1. In recent years a number of cities and states have responded to grassroots pressure and raised the minimum wage. As president, how would you address the minimum wage? The federal minimum wage for tipped workers, the vast majority of whom are women of color, is a mere $2.13. How will you make sure that restaurant workers and domestic workers don’t get left behind?
  1. The Obama administration recently issued guidance saying that schools must allow trans students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity to ensure trans and gender nonconforming students are not harassed or discriminated against in schools. Do you support this legislation, and as president, what would you propose to protect the trans population from the high rates of violence and harassment?
  1. Affordable childcare is out of reach for the majority of U.S. families, and the cost of childcare in some states rivals that of college tuition. How do you propose addressing this issue, and as president how would you make sure that women and primary caretakers are not pushed out of the workforce because of exorbitant childcare costs?
  1. There has been a lot of discussion in this campaign about the criminal justice system, but those conversations have largely focused on how that system affects men of color. However, over the last 30 years the number of women in prison increased by 646 percent. Women of color are disproportionately impacted by these trends. Many experts have noted that the increase in women’s imprisonment is not a reflection of the seriousness of women’s crimes—half of women who are incarcerated have never been convicted of a violent offense—but instead of the increasingly harsh penalties of the war on drugs. As president, what policies would you propose regarding the criminal justice system’s impact on women?

Given that Sunday’s debate will be town hall style, there’s a chance the scope of questions could be broader than in past debates. But that remains to be seen. Even asking a few of these questions, however, would offer a glimpse of how each candidate would influence policies that impact women, and particularly women of color, queer women and trans women. These communities should know precisely how our nation’s next leader will (or will not) prioritize them, especially if they’re expected to turn out on November 8.

Andrea Flynn is a Roosevelt Fellow who researches and writes about issues that impact women and families. Her writing has appeared in The Atlantic, The New Republic, Cosmopolitan, Salon, The Hill, and Women’s eNews. You can follow Andrea on Twitter @dreaflynn.

Marybeth Seitz-Brown is a Roosevelt Program Associate.