At the first presidential debate last night, Lester Holt couldn’t be bothered to ask Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump about abortion. This despite the fact that abortion is one of the most explosive political issues of our time, Hillary Clinton has staked out progressive positions on abortion never before embraced by a Democratic nominee for president, and Donald Trump has been all over the place on abortion, including some extreme places like calling for punishing women who have abortions and recently accepting the endorsement of pro-life terrorist poster boy Troy Newman.
The abortion question is a real one, and there’s every reason to expect it’s coming. But my money is on the abortion question at long last appearing in the vice presidential debate, since vice presidents are often tasked with leading the charge on social issues, for better (Vice President Biden pushing President Obama to evolve on marriage equality) or worse (Vice President Quayle picking a fight with Murphy Brown).
Theoretically, this should have been a slam dunk. As a member of Congress, Trump’s running mate Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) invented the effort to defund Planned Parenthood. He is a vicious man whose willfully ignorant anti-abortion, anti-sexuality views have led him to claim condoms don’t work and driven thousands of protesters to the streets to protest his ‘religious freedom’ law designed to allow businesses to refuse service to same-sex couples. He’s into redefining rape so fewer people who want abortions can get them. It should be lost on no one that a woman in Indiana named Purvi Patel served over a year in prison for ending her own pregnancy before an appeals court set her free, and Gov. Pence presided over this blatant violation of her human rights and literal application of Donald Trump’s promise to punish women who have abortions.
Hillary Clinton would be a great person to answer these questions. But she hasn’t been asked. None of the Democratic primary debates asked about abortion. Which brings us to her running mate, Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) who is … not a great person to ask about abortion.
Tim Kaine is, sigh, personally opposed to abortion, with all the irrelevant shaming and male privilege that brings to the discussion. As Governor of Virginia he signed a bill into law that created “Choose Life” license plates that divert state monies into unaccountable crisis pregnancy centers that exist to lie to women and make it harder for people who want abortions to get them. He supports the Hyde Amendment which bars federal funding for abortion. He supports it so much, he went around his boss who is a woman and coincidentally belongs to the gender most impacted by restrictions on abortion and clarified that, contrary to what her campaign said, he does not support her position of repealing the Hyde Amendment. (Please pause and think about the gender ramifications of that, because it sucks so much. Most powerful woman in the world gets to be second-guessed and disagreed with in public by her right-hand man on an issue that is deeply personal for women and indivisibly critical for their political, social, and legal equality?)
It’s clear Tim Kaine needs some help talking about abortion. Here is what he should say at the vice presidential debate:
I support the right to abortion, and I will follow the leadership of President Hillary Clinton to fight for the right to abortion.
But Senator Kaine, you’ve said you are personally opposed abortion and you do not support repealing the Hyde Amendment, contrary to Secretary Clinton’s platform and the Democratic Party platform. Will you do this work, or will you leave it to her?
As a man, I approach the possibility of serving under the first woman president with humility and awareness that I have a special role to play in teaching our country to respect a woman’s leadership. Hillary Clinton has clearly spoken about the need to repeal the discriminatory Hyde Amendment. I support her leadership. I understand that personal views about abortion should not drive a public policy discussion about a woman or pregnant person’s civil and human rights. We must end the Hyde Amendment.
But that’s not what you’ve said before.
I was wrong to disagree with Hillary publicly on an issue, particularly an issue as important to her as this one. It’s important and historically significant for men to support women’s leadership right now. Hillary has called upon me to serve her and our country, and I know the right way to serve our country is to follow her lead and ensure the right to abortion is accessible for everyone. That includes repealing the Hyde Amendment. It’s a shame you aren’t asking her about this.
Expecting any less of Tim Kaine is, frankly, sexism. Abortion stigma and restrictions on abortion are rooted in sexism. Allowing a man to end-run the woman boss on a “women’s issue” is sexist. He’s got to get better.