As the 2020 election approaches, President Donald Trump and his likely challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, are working to set themselves apart from each other.
Trump and Biden agree on little, but one of their largest divides is on issues pertaining to women, particularly reproductive rights and domestic violence.
Regardless of where Trump and Biden stand, this election will likely be a difficult choice for some women, as both men have been accused of sexual assault and inappropriate touching.
The political divide between men and women
To group voters of any gender or race into one monolithic voting bloc is always dangerously reductive, but study after study has found that there is a significant difference in the issues that matter most to men and women.
A survey during the 2018 midterm elections found that there were a number of issues that women were more likely than men to deem critical, including healthcare, gender equality and race relations.
Likewise, when asked which issues were the most important, men (24%) were more likely to cite the economy and jobs over any other issue, while women (29%) chose healthcare. In that same study, 10% of women (and 12% of women between the ages of 18 and 44) selected “Issues that mainly affect women,” compared to only 6% of men.
Reproductive rights – including access to birth control and abortion – is one of the most divisive issues in the United States.
Democrats and Republicans are firmly divided, especially on the issue of abortion, with nearly 40% of Democrats saying that abortion should be legal under any circumstances, and over 30% of Republicans saying that abortion should never be legal.
Biden’s campaign website does not specifically address reproductive rights, but a Politico review of his position on the issue shows that his views have changed over his four decades in office.
In the 1980s, Biden argued that the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade “went too far.”
Even as recently as 2006, Biden referred to himself as the “odd man out” on the issue among members of his party.
Despite saying in 2006 that he would not support a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, he admitted, “I do not view abortion as a choice and a right. I think it’s always a tragedy, and I think that it should be rare and safe, and I think we should be focusing on how to limit the number of abortions. There ought to be able to have a common ground and consensus as to do that.”
In 2019, Biden’s views appear to have evolved, with the presumptive Democratic nominee stating that he will no longer support the Hyde Amendment, a provision that bans federal funds for abortion, which has appeared in multiple spending bills over the years.
In a July presidential debate, Biden stated, “I support a woman’s right to choose. I support it’s a constitutional right. I’ve supported it and I will continue to support it.”
While Biden’s historically centrist stance on the issue has long failed to impress voters on either side of the divide, Trump has actively courted the pro-life, anti-abortion voting bloc.
Within a year of taking office, Trump’s administration implemented a global gag rule that prevented US global health funds from going to groups that provide or even discuss abortions. Domestically, Trump has sought to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, the largest women’s health care provider in the country.
Trump has regularly spoken out against “late-term abortions” and has likened the procedure to a baby being “ripped from the mother’s womb.” Yet, Trump’s pro-life stance as president is dramatically opposed to his public record prior to entering politics. His views appear to have evolved considerably, too. In 1999, Trump said that he was “very pro-choice.”
Trump has nominated two conservative judges to the US Supreme Court – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – who could lead a right-leaning Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Though many state laws limiting abortion rights have been struck down by higher courts, legal experts believe a case currently before the Supreme Court could open the door to making abortion illegal.
Biden has long led on the issue of domestic violence. As a senator, he wrote the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that passed in 1994. The act provided substantial funds to fight domestic violence, including increased grants to police departments to address the issue and to shelters for victims of domestic violence. The legislation also helped establish a national domestic violence toll free hotline.
In his current campaign, Biden has vowed to not only advocate for the continued relevance of VAWA (which expired in 2019), but has said that he will expand upon it. This includes updating guidelines so as to tackle online harassment, directly address the link between guns and domestic violence and expand the federal housing program for abuse victims and their children.
As for Trump, in each year of his presidency so far, he has made a presidential proclamation recognizing October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The 2019 proclamation stated, “Domestic violence poisons relationships, destroys lives, and shatters the bedrock of our society — the family” and vowed that there would be “zero tolerance for acts of domestic violence.”
But in terms of actual policy actions, the Trump administration has been relatively quiet.
In 2019, efforts to reauthorize VAWA stalled in the Republican-led Senate after passing in the House of Representatives. There have been calls for Trump to support the reauthorization, but so far the administration has not publicly commented on it.
The ongoing stalemate is said to be over Republican objections to gun control measures included within the bill that would prevent abusive, unmarried partners with histories of domestic violence from buying guns (sometimes referred to as closing “the boyfriend loophole”).
In January 2019, Slate reported that the Department of Justice, which oversees the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), had changed its official definition of domestic violence, “effectively denying the experiences of victims of abuse by attempting to cast domestic violence as an exclusively criminal concern.”
In 2018, a member of Trump’s administration, Rob Porter, resigned amid multiple accusations of domestic violence. Trump wished Porter well upon his exit, stating, “He says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent, so you’ll have to talk to him about that.”
Shortly thereafter, rumors surfaced that Porter had been secretly hired to work on Trump’s 2020 campaign, though the campaign denied the rumors.
Biden’s campaign site states that he supports equal pay for women and that his administration would “ratify the Equal Rights Amendment [ERA], so that gender equality is finally enshrined in our Constitution.” Biden has also vowed to name a woman as his running mate, which would make her the first female VP in US history if their ticket won.
The ERA, first passed in 1972, would bar gender discrimination at the federal level. However, though the amendment was recently ratified by Virginia, giving it the 38 states necessary to become law, it long ago passed the deadline for achieving that threshold.
The Trump administration has, on more than one occasion, opposed lawsuits that seek to dismiss the deadline and allow the ERA to become law. Democrats in the House have voted to eliminate the deadline, but the Senate has not indicated whether it has any intention of taking up the issue.
In 2019, a federal judge threw out an effort by the Trump administration to repeal an Obama-era law that requires companies to report salaries by gender, race and job title to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The law was an attempt by the Obama administration to ensure equal pay for women.
Trump has personally faced many accusations of misogyny and sexual assault both before and since becoming president, but he has pushed back against those claims, saying that as a chief executive officer in the real estate industry, he hired numerous women in a male-dominated field.
While Trump’s presidential administration has featured a number of women in high-profile positions, it still remains a largely male-dominated group.
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