Despite Campaign Spin, McCain Would Be a Disaster on Women's Rights

According to a 2008 Planned Parenthood Action Fund poll, many pro-choice voters are under the impression that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., would protect women's rights, particularly in the area of reproductive rights. Forty-six percent of women supporting McCain said they'd like to see Roe v. Wade upheld, and a quarter of the all the pro-choice women polled thought McCain's views were consistent with theirs. The poll reflects the need for greater awareness of McCain's record, as "51 percent of women voters in battleground states have no idea what John McCain's positions are on women's reproductive health issues." The poll numbers also hint a misleading spin campaign from McCain and his surrogates to portray a "maverick" image on women's issues and cover up his hard-right record. McCain's long opposition to birth control measures, fair pay legislation, and his support for conservative justices such as Sam Alito and John Roberts who have undermined women's rights on the Supreme Court underscore his poor support for women.

The Reality

McCain said in 2006 that he would repeal Roe v. Wade. His campaign website calls for overturning Roe, returning the issue of abortion to the states, and then building "the necessary consensus to end abortion at the state level."

"I will be a pro-life president and this presidency will have pro-life policies," he told Pastor Rick Warren this month. Planned Parenthood and NARAL have both given him a zero rating on abortion issues. According to NARAL, of 130 congressional votes by McCain related to reproductive freedom, 125 have been against abortion. "I've got a consistent zero from NARAL throughout all those years," he trumpets. On other reproductive health issues, McCain toes the right-wing line, having voted against requiring health care plans to cover birth control, comprehensive sex education, public education for emergency contraception, and restoring Medicaid funding for family planning for low-income women. "The guy I really respect on this is Dr. Coburn," McCain told the New York Times in March 2007, referring to the vociferously anti-abortion Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla. McCain has also supported anti-women's rights judges such as Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas.

The Spin

McCain and his campaign, however, have wildly misrepresented McCain's record on reproductive health. McCain supporter Debra Bartoshevich said at a press conference yesterday that McCain is pro-choice, referring to a 1999 quote of McCain saying that "overturning Roe v. Wade doesn't make any sense." McCain chief surrogate Carly Fiorina in July suggested that McCain opposes "health insurance plans that will cover Viagra but won't cover birth-control medication," forgetting that in 2003, McCain voted against legislation requiring coverage of birth control and falsely told women in Ohio this year that McCain "has never signed on to efforts to overturn Roe vs. Wade."

"When pressed to speak about [women's issues], he often evinces stunning ignorance, a fact that helps reassure the moderate middle that he could not possibly be as conservative as his record suggests," Sarah Blustain of The New Republic observes this week. In July, a reporter asked McCain if it is "unfair" that insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control. "I certainly do not want to discuss that issue," he said, pausing uncomfortably for several seconds. "It's something that I had not thought much about."

When asked whether contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV, he paused, finally answering,"You've stumped me. ... I think I support the president's policy."

Women on the Backburner

McCain's record is poor not only on reproductive health issues but other issues related to women's rights. Last month, he skipped the vote on the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which would have made it easier for women and other workers to pursue pay discrimination claims. McCain explained his opposition to the bill by saying that instead of stronger pay protection, women simply needed "education and training." In May, he told a 14-year old girl that he didn't think equal pay protections would do "anything to help the rights of women," claiming the legislation could "violate[e] the rights of the individuals who are being sued." (In July, however, McCain claimed he was "committed to making sure that there's equal pay for equal work.") McCain has also opposed the reauthorization of the State Children's Health Insurance Act. NARAL President Nancy Keenan yesterday reminded the public that McCain said he would vote against a family-planning program that "provides millions of low-income women with access to birth control and breast-cancer screenings" and that his record suggests he would "force teachers to censor life-saving information from our teens" in support failed abstinence-only policies.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Imagine you've forgotten once again the difference between a gorilla and a chimpanzee, so you do a quick Google image search of “gorilla." But instead of finding images of adorable animals, photos of a Black couple pop up.

Is this just a glitch in the algorithm? Or, is Google an ad company, not an information company, that's replicating the discrimination of the world it operates in? How can this discrimination be addressed and who is accountable for it?

“These platforms are encoded with racism," says UCLA professor and best-selling author of Algorithms of Oppression, Dr. Safiya Noble. “The logic is racist and sexist because it would allow for these kinds of false, misleading, kinds of results to come to the fore…There are unfortunately thousands of examples now of harm that comes from algorithmic discrimination."

On At Liberty this week, Dr. Noble joined us to discuss what she calls “algorithmic oppression," and what needs to be done to end this kind of bias and dismantle systemic racism in software, predictive analytics, search platforms, surveillance systems, and other technologies.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up