Women Were Put Last In The VP Debate, Even When The Candidates Discussed Women's Issues

It's bad enough that Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine only spoke about women's issues in the last 10 minutes of the vice presidential debate last night. But it's much worse when you consider that even when they were supposedly discussing women's issues, they barely spoke about women at all. In fact, even after moderator Elaine Quijano turned the candidates' focus to social issues (this, of course, during an evening when she had to steer them back to the topic at hand 27 times), most of their subsequent discussion entirely revolved around Pence's and Kaine's personal faiths, rather than anything to do with actual human women.

While it is no surprise to the American public that both Kaine and Pence are religious — in fact, some political observers believe Kaine's affiliation with the church might earn the Clinton campaign some votes from Republicans hesitant to get behind Trump — it is entirely disappointing that both candidates let incredibly important social issues relating to women take a backseat to the discussion of religion. Though Quijano did ask about each candidate's personal faiths as they pertained to their opinions on social issues — which then led the candidates to briefly discuss their positions on abortion — rather than asking them specifically about their stances on reproductive rights (a problem in and of itself), it was profoundly frustrating to see the two men speak about women's issues like abortion, access to birth control, and healthcare in language tied solely to their religious beliefs. The discussion was all but swallowed by what theSkimm has aptly dubbed an "amen-off" — rather than asserting the importance of their specific stances, both candidates seemed more determined to prove their faith to the other one and to the American people.

This is disturbing not just because as a woman living in America, I hope (perhaps against hope) that there aren't just a bunch of white dudes arguing about God every time someone makes a decision about my uterus; it was also disturbing on a basic level as it pertains to the separation of church and state — why are we talking about religion at a debate regarding a government position, anyway? But most chilling was the fact that the candidates only saw their reproductive health stances in terms of their personal faiths — rather than the actual women their decisions affect.

Consider Pence's immediate answer to Quijano's question about social issues:

Well, it's a wonderful question. And my Christian faith is at the very heart of who I am. I was also raised in a wonderful family of faith. It was a church on Sunday morning and grace before dinner.
But my Christian faith became real for me when I made a personal decision for Christ when I was a freshman in college. And I've tried to live that out however imperfectly every day of my life since. And with my wife at my side, we've followed a calling into public service, where we've — we've tried to — we've tried to keep faith with the values that we cherish.

Only after Pence made thoroughly sure everyone knew what a religious man he was did he delve into his stance on abortion.

As someone who is not a religious person, this sounds to me more like a series of deflections than an explanation. When I hear this, I feel that he is attempting to distract me from the fact that he is essentially a white man in a position of power, telling me about the choices I can make for my body — because according to Pence, it's not him making these decisions. It's his faith.

To me, this seems like yet another damaging way that men can wash their hands of the harm they cause enforcing policies that ultimately hurt women — the blame lies everywhere other than them, and the impact that abortion and birth control legislation has on his personal faith is somehow more important than the impact it has on me and millions of other women.

And though Tim Kaine is pro-choice, his constant callback to his own religion and his personal beliefs on abortion also distracted from the issues at hand. Here was his immediate response to Quijano's question:

Elaine, this is a fundamental question, a fundamental question. Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds, from Methodist church experience, which was really formative for her as a public servant.

But we really feel like you should live fully and with enthusiasm the commands of your faith. But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everybody else.

Yes, Kaine recovers from here and outlines his pro-choice sentiments — but makes it very, very clear that it is despite his personal beliefs on the matter (it's worth noting here that Kaine continues to support the Hyde Amendment, the government provision that makes it illegal to use Medicaid funds to pay for an abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life of the mother — despite the fact that the 2016 Democratic Party platform officially supports repealing it). And to that end, there is a constant reminder that even the candidate who is supposed to speak for women's rights in this debate cannot fully justify his views without seeming to apologize for it, making his arguments all the less impactful.

You know what would have been impactful? Seeing the candidates speak to their views about abortion without mentioning their faith, without mentioning their personal beliefs toward it as they were shaped through religion. I want to hear Mike Pence be held accountable for his views without projecting them onto God. I want Tim Kaine to advocate for women without apologizing for it. I want these candidates to speak to me, and to the millions of women they are affecting with their policy — because we are not somewhere in an ancient text, and we are not all thinking of their God. We are the people that their decisions directly affect come 2017, and if they want to have that kind of power over the American people, they damn well better be ready to take responsibility for it themselves — because at the end of the day, it will be them, not God, making the kinds of decisions that affect me and countless other women for the rest of our lives.