Lady Voters

Obama Blew It With Women at the Debate

Jessica Arons of the Center for American Progress asks: Why didn’t he go after Romney on issues that matter to female voters?

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From the look of my Twitter feed last night, I wasn’t the only one frustrated by President Obama’s lackluster debate performance, including his failure to mention women’s issues even once.

In a year when the “war on women” has reared its head with attacks on breast-cancer screenings, birth-control coverage, and family-planning funding, along with laws requiring vaginal ultrasounds and comments about “legitimate rape,” you would think us ladies might register just a little bit—especially when the president enjoys an 18-percentage-point lead over his competitor among women. And in a debate about domestic policy, where the subjects ranged from jobs to the economy to health-care to Medicaid, there was ample opportunity.

One moment in particular provided a perfect opening for Obama to discuss a bevy of women’s issues. Early in the debate, Governor Romney relayed a touching story about a new mom whose husband just lost his fourth part-time job in the last three years. The president could have used this story to talk not only about his plans for jobs creation, but also about fair pay, paid family leave, and paid sick days.

Why did her husband lose his job? Perhaps it was because he needed some time with his family after the birth of his child. While the Family Medical Leave Act guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child, half of the workers in this country don’t qualify for its protections, including part-time employees. Similarly, 43 percent of employees do not have even one day of paid sick leave to care for themselves or a loved one. Yet Mitt Romney has refused to endorse the Healthy Families Act, which would provide workers with seven days of paid sick leave each year.

The woman Romney spoke to likely also works outside the home, as do three quarters of moms. Families rely more than ever on a woman’s paycheck—two thirds of mothers are primary or co-breadwinners for their families. Yet women earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, putting a significant dent in the family pocketbook. President Obama could have reminded the public that the first bill he signed into law was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. In addition, he supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would further strengthen our pay-equity laws, but Romney has similarly failed to take a position on this piece of legislation that is so important to families’ income.

This woman’s story was also ripe for a debate about health-care reform. The president could have mentioned how under Obamacare, insurance plans already have to provide coverage for preventive services, including well-baby visits, childhood vaccinations, and breastfeeding support—with no co-pays! He could have bragged that all plans will have to cover maternity care starting in 2014, which will benefit 8.7 million women. And he could have shared that less than two years from now, insurers will be prohibited from denying women coverage for “pre-existing conditions” like pregnancy and Caesarean sections.

Instead of spending so much time praising Romneycare Wednesday night, he should have been celebrating Obamacare and asking Romney, who has threatened to repeal the law, why on earth he would want to take it all away.

I’m guessing that woman doesn’t want to become pregnant again while her husband’s out of work and they’re caring for a newborn. Lucky for her, Obamacare also includes no-cost coverage for birth control. Studies have shown that when cost is not a barrier, women choose contraceptive methods that have higher upfront costs but are more effective and longer lasting, such as intrauterine devices and implants. In fact, new research just published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology found that providing no-cost birth control can significantly reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy and may bring the number of abortions down by as much as 41 to 71 percent.

If the new mom and her husband lost their health insurance with his job, then she might need to visit her local Planned Parenthood to get affordable birth control, as 2.2 million patients do each year. That might not be an option if Romney has his way—he has pledged to “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. He’s also proposed to eliminate Title X, our nation’s federal family-planning program, because it’s not “essential” enough to justify “borrowing from China,” even though every dollar spent on family planning saves almost $4 in averted unintended pregnancy costs.

Unfortunately, it must have slipped the president’s mind to hold Romney accountable for these reckless positions. With two more debates to come, there’s still time for him to get it right.