Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Big Gains for Women in Politics, but Reproductive Health Still on the Backburner

In 1976, National Public Radio correspondent Pauline Frederick joined a panel of men for a Ford-Carter presidential debate, but was not permitted to ask any questions.  40 years later, women outnumbered men 3 to 1 at the sixth Democratic presidential debate of this political season.  Co-anchors and managing editors of PBS Newshour, Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff, made history yesterday as the first anchor team comprised only of women to moderate a Democratic presidential debate.  This is the second history-making accomplishment for Ifill and Woodruff, who became the first female co-anchor team on a U.S. broadcast network in 2013.  Fox Business Network’s Sandra Smith and Trish Regan co-anchored the earlier undercard Republican presidential debate a month prior to Ifill and Woodruff.  A boost in women moderators followed a 2012 petition to the Commission on Presidential Debates.  Started by Emma Axelrod, Elena Tsemberis and Sammi Siegel, the petition demanding a woman moderate one of the presidential debates gathered 122,339 signatures. 

Women have also called for candidates to discuss gender equality, including healthcare, family leave, wage equity and abortion access.  NARAL Pro-Choice criticized previous moderators for ignoring women’s reproductive rights during debates, starting the #AskAboutAbortion hashtag to urge Ifill and Woodruff to address the hot-button topic.  The moderators shied away from reproductive health, however, focusing on women’s waning support for Clinton.  NARAL and other pro-choice groups will continue the fight.  NARAL president Ilyse Hogue tweeted post-debate, “Asking abt support of women is NOT the same as laying out plans 2 expand abortion access.  Still need 2 @AskAboutAbortion.”

--Kathleen Melendy, MWPC Intern