Throughout this campaign season, “women’s votes” have become hotly contested as both candidates have vied for support from the female half of the country’s population. As President Obama pointed out in the second presidential debate, policies to ensure affordable access to contraception and close the wage gap are not just women’s issues, but actually family issues and middle-class issues. Nevertheless, some of the presidential candidates’ proposed policies do have an outsized impact on women, and the outcome of today’s election will determine the future of these ten issues:
1) Health care costs. Women tend to have higher medical expenses than men do, and insurers often practice “gender rating” to charge women more than men for the exact same health services. Forty three percent of women report that high costs have led them to skip some of the health care services they need. Under Obamacare, gender rating will be illegal and a wide range of important preventative health services for women — such as contraceptive services, cancer screenings, STI testing and counseling, and annual check-ups — will be covered at no additional cost. Issues of gender-based discrepancies in health care costs could reemerge, however, if the health reform law is repealed.
2) Pay equity. The average woman in the United States still makes just 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, a wage gap that emerges in the very first year of full-time work after college. President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009 to empower women to challenge wage discrimination — but Romney has declined to clarify whether or not he supports that legislation. Romney has also dodged questions about his stance on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would close additional loopholes in existing pay equity laws.
3) The Supreme Court. Since four of the nine current justices are over the age of 74, the winner of this election could have the chance to appoint several new members. Romney has said he would appoint judges to overturn Roe v. Wade and revoke women’s legal access to abortion, and his appointments could also chip away at women’s rights in other areas. Justice Antonin Scalia does not believe that the Constitution guarantees protection from gender discrimination, and Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito have suggested they may share that view — so the Supreme Court could be just one vote away from ruling against women who bring forth gender-based discrimination cases.
4) Resources for survivors of sexual assault. The Violence Against Women Act has helped protect countless survivors of domestic assault since its introduction in 1994. But the re-authorization of the bill has been stalled thanks to a partisan fight over whether VAWA should include protections for Native Americans, undocumented immigrants, and the LGBT community — and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan supports the watered-down version of the legislation that strips these groups of women of their protections. Romney has declined to specify which version of VAWA he prefers, but he has been clear about his desire to repeal Obamacare, which includes additional resources and counseling for survivors of domestic violence.
5) Funding for Planned Parenthood. Republican lawmakers have been attempting to defund Planned Parenthood’s health clinics on a state level, denying low-income women access to critical preventative health services in the GOP’s crusade against abortion services. Romney has confirmed his desire to defund Planned Parenthood on a national level, going so far as to promise that he will “immediately” take action to “remove funding” for the women’s health organization.
6) State-level abortion legislation. In several states, voters will decide on proposed abortion restrictions on their ballots today. In Florida, Amendment 6 seeks to ban abortion coverage under state insurance plans. If LR 120 passes in Montana, it would make it the 38th state to instate a parental notification law for teenagers seeking abortions. This year, 76 different abortion restrictions have been approved by at least one legislative chamber on a state level, and nine have been enacted so far.
7) Maternity care. Coverage for maternity care has typically been excluded from insurance plans — but if Obamacare remains in place, the health reform law will guarantee that about 8.7 million women have access to maternity care like prenatal doctor’s visits, emergency care during labor, and breastfeeding support. Obamacare also established the Pregnancy Assistance Fund to aid programs across the country that provide important services for low-income pregnant teens and young adults.
8) Medicaid expansion. As governors across the country debate whether to accept the optional expansion of the Medicaid program under Obamacare, women have the most to lose if states decline to expand coverage to more of their low-income resident. Women make up nearly 70 percent of all Medicaid beneficiaries, partly because women are more likely than men to be poor and women tend to qualify for the program when they are new mothers. Non-elderly women make up 10 million of the 15 million low-income Americans who are eligible for the Medicaid expansion that Republican governors in states like Florida and Texas are currently blocking.
9) Marriage equality and adoption rights. For the women who do not identify as heterosexual, this election could mark an important step forward for LGBT equality. Obama is the first U.S. president to endorse marriage equality in office, and he could enact policies in his second term to extend legal rights and protections to all types of female mothers and spouses, not just the women who are part of traditional family structures. Romney, on the other hand, has prevented same-sex couples from receiving appropriate birth certificates for their children, and supports a definition of “traditional marriage” that would deny LGBT people their full rights as parents and partners.
10) Representation in Congress. The number of women in Congress dropped to just 17 percent after the 2010 elections. Today, voters everywhere have a chance to improve women’s representation. This year, 12 Democratic and 6 Republican women are running for Senate, while 116 Democratic women and 47 Republican women are running in the House. Just one woman, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, is running for governor. Four female Republican governors are currently in office, but the nation’s only two Democratic women serving as governor — Christine Gregoire in Washington and Bev Perdue in North Carolina — are both stepping down after this year.