Why a vice presidential debate discussion on reproductive rights would be so interesting

The first presidential debate between the first female presidential nominee from a major party, Hillary Clinton, and known misogynist Donald Trump disappointed women’s rights advocates everywhere when the topic of reproductive rights failed to come up. Obviously, considering how divisive and relevant of an issue it is, it’s got to be discussed at at least one national debate, but a discussion of reproductive rights at the vice presidential debate would be not only hugely important, but also pretty interesting. Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine and Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence both maintain views on abortion radically different from each other’s and that deviate a little from most in their respective parties, too.

For example, despite obviously being pro-choice (seriously, would you expect Clinton, fully aware that some already disdain her for being too centrist/moderate, to choose a veep who isn’t pro-choice?), Kaine personally opposes abortion due to his religious values as a Roman Catholic. In this regard, he’s not unlike current Vice President Joe Biden, who shares Kaine’s religious views and also personally opposes the procedure, but both men understand that their personal views can’t dictate the laws women are held to, and anyone who opposes abortion, like they do, is entirely at liberty to not have one.

That being said, his stance on abortion isn’t exactly ideal to women’s rights advocates hoping for a champion who would proudly declare “abortion is not immoral and shouldn’t be stigmatized, etc., etc.” And there was certainly some controversy over the summer when Kaine came out opposing the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding from helping poor women obtain abortions, but he then clarified that, again, this meant he personally opposed repealing it, but politically supported it, or something like that. Either way, he wasn’t/isn’t super enthusiastic about repealing the law that has rendered abortion a theoretical right to women lacking the financial means to afford it.

Still, whatever his personal feelings about the procedure itself, Kaine has made it clear he supports women’s right to access it and enthusiastically supported legislation to protect women’s access to birth control earlier this year in response to Republican efforts to undercut it.

At the end of the day, Clinton’s record on reproductive rights and the endorsements she enjoys from Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America speak for themselves — just as Pence’s record on reproductive rights as governor of Indiana speaks for itself.

Virginia Senate Candidate Tim Kaine Campaigns At Town Hall Event
CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As governor, not only did Pence authorize discrimination against gay people (on the grounds of freedom of religion, which is similarly used to allow employers to deny women healthcare offering contraception), but Pence additionally defunded Planned Parenthood clinics in his state in 2013. By 2014, funding for the women’s health organization had been halved from what it was in 2005 and multiple clinics had been closed. Unsurprisingly considering all that the organization does to combat sexually transmitted diseases, Scott County, Indiana observed a large-scale HIV outbreak.

Pence, unlike Kaine, not only personally opposes abortion, but also opposes women’s right to having the procedure and has passionately called for the repeal of Roe v. Wade, which, unfortunately, isn’t at all impossible considering the anti-choice Supreme Court justices Trump has promised he would nominate.

As governor, Pence already did essentially repeal the rights ensured by Roe v. Wade through signing a measure prohibiting women from having abortions on the basis of race, gender, or disability of the fetus. Indiana was notably only the second state in the nation to do this, Mother Jones reported earlier this year.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence Holds Press Conference
CREDIT: Aaron P. Bernstein /Getty Images

The law also additionally held doctors liable for “wrongful death” if they performed abortions motivated by one or more of the prohibited reasons which, frankly, would be impossible to prove and would likely render doctors vulnerable to all kinds of legal trouble for merely helping women access their constitutional rights. The law was slammed by the medical community, and ultimately blocked by a federal judge, thank god.

Pence clearly aligns with most of the Republican Party in his opposition to abortion, but his record of not only opposing it but concretely barring so many women’s access to the procedure and reproductive rights is unique and worth questioning at the debate. Moderator Elaine Quijano could and should ask him if he intends to subject the nation as a whole to similar policy proposals should he become the second highest in command, answer to medical experts’ criticisms of the perils of blocking abortion rights, and the undeniably adverse effects of his abortion policies in Indiana (i.e. HIV outbreak).

In the same vein, Quijano should implore Kaine to definitively identify his stance on Hyde, or describe his and Clinton’s plan to dismantle it, or his opinions of TRAP laws shutting down clinics by pinning them with medically unnecessary requirements, mandatory waiting periods, misleading anti-choice counseling sessions, and twenty-week bans.

Anti-Abortion Activists March In Washington
CREDIT: Alex Wong/Getty Images

At any rate, no matter who Quijano asks about reproductive rights, expect some interesting, radically different answers from the two candidates. It’s important that the issue comes up because ignoring it at such a widely viewed, critically important forum would not only forfeit the chance to bring a relevant, important issue to national attention, but would also send the message that there’s nothing left to debate about abortion, reproductive rights, and women’s ability to access these rights. This is, as we all know, entirely untrue.

You can catch the debate this Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET on all major channels, as well as YouTube, Facebook Live, and Twitter, and, of course, check The Frisky for live coverage of the can’t-miss event.