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Where Do The Presidential Candidates Stand On Women’s Issues?

a look at their policy proposals and personal beliefs

The 2016 race for the presidency is one that has, if anything, evoked strong feelings across political parties, even before the primaries. Candidates left and right have presented their stances on dividing issues like immigration, as well as tax reform. And especially as attacks on Planned Parenthood continue strong in 2016 and the wage gap persists more than 50 years after the passage of the Equal Pay Act, women's issues have become a prevalent topic in debates, platforms, and rallies. 

Most right-wing candidates have come to a general consensus to maintain anti-abortion policies that only allow for the procedure to be carried out in cases of rape, incest, or if a mother's life is in danger, while liberal candidates support safe, legal, and accessible practice of abortion. It should be noted, however, that these conservative abortion exceptions still greatly reduce the accessibility of abortion for those who need it—just consider the country's backlog of thousands of rape kits, as well as its history of not trusting survivors. If rape is to be an abortion exception, that still does not guarantee that a rape victim will actually be able to access the right.

As for the wage gap, candidates are divided both on its existence, as well as how to solve it. While some propose raising the minimum wage and increasing legislation that would protect a woman's right to a fair and equal wage, others have consistently voted against such legislation, like the Paycheck Fairness Act.

Whether you stand on the left, right, or middle part of the political spectrum, it's important to be aware of the issues that affect you, and how legislation could affect both your paychecks and your body. This is where every candidate stands on the issues that affect women.

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Donald Trump

It could easily be said that no one thought that Donald Trump would get this far in his presidential campaign. But as he fights for the Republican nomination, he’s being faced with serious questions. While Trump has a history of making sexist comments (most notoriously against Megyn Kelly, who he has repeatedly called a bimbo), his policy proposals also show a lack of committing to solving women’s issues.

Wage Gap

The issue of the wage gap is one that Trump seems to brush aside. According to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, wages cannot vary based on the gender of employees. Because of this piece of legislature, many people cast the wage gap aside as a myth, when really, the facts are simple: In spite of the law, white cisgender women earn 79 cents for every dollar a white cisgender man earns. The pay gap is greater for women of color and also mothers. When pressed about his stance on this issue, Trump said simply, “You’re gonna make the same if you do as good a job.”

He elaborated, “When you have to categorize men and women into a particular group and a particular pay scale, it gets very — because people do different jobs.” However, this stance fails to acknowledge the fact that discrimination happens at an entry level and also varies based on inequality of opportunities. The wage gap cannot be simplified into just equal pay for equal work, because women, and specifically women of color, are often forced into lower paying jobs, and aren’t allowed paid maternity leave, which cuts down on their total earnings and their pension. To truly end the wage gap, barriers must be removed that otherwise prevent women’s entry at large to higher-paying occupations, better child care must be provided, pregnancy discrimination must be ended, and as a whole, politicians must look at the big picture, rather than a black and white question of salaries.


In spite of many recent protests against Planned Parenthood, Donald Trump has asserted his support of the nonprofit. He told Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press, “I have many, many friends who are women who understand Planned Parenthood better than you or I will ever understand it. And they do some very good work. Cervical cancer, lots of women's issue, women's health issues are taken care of.”

However, Trump is in favor of defunding Planned Parenthood because he is anti-abortion.

Here, it is important to note that Planned Parenthood does not use any government money to fund abortions. The Title X Family Planning Program of the Public Health Service Act, enacted in 1970 under President Nixon does not allow for the federal funding of abortion. Not to mention, only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood clients receive abortion services — not that this fact should matter since Planned Parenthood is not legally allowed to use government money to fund abortions. In spite of this, Trump stands by his desire to defund the nonprofit.

As for abortion itself, Trump is pro-life. However, he does favor exceptions in cases of rape, incest, and threat to the mother’s life—a position that has been shared by many conservatives, most famously President Reagan.

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Marco Rubio

Florida senator Marco Rubio isn’t above taking extreme stances—he’s been a longtime supporter of the war in Iraq, he has consistently voted against marriage equality, and he has supported organizations that provide conversion therapy that attempts to turn LGBTQ individuals straight. His positions on women’s issues are also less moderate.

Wage Gap

Like Trump, Rubio’s position on the wage gap is one that views this phenomenon at its most basic level. For this reason, he voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act as it passed through the Senate. The bill proposed would make it easier for employees to bring class action lawsuits against larger companies and would prevent employers from rebuking employees who share salary information with one another. Rubio stood against the bill because he saw it as unnecessary.

“It’s already illegal to pay women less than men,” he said. “If I pay a woman less than a man for the same job, it’s illegal now. You can be sued now.” Instead of seeing the bill as a way for women to fight legal systems that result in unfair paychecks, Rubio views it as an act that would increase the number of lawsuits filed by women against employers that simply don’t pay them what they deserve. Yet more lawsuits would make it all the more probable to close the wage gap. So in this case, Rubio supports the concept of wage equality, but he actively fights against legislation that attempts to strengthen laws already in existence that help women to earn their full wage.


Like former candidate Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio has referenced Planned Parenthood videos (that are totally fabricated) in his fight against the nonprofit. The videos in question were created in order to make it seem as if Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue for profit. Because of this believe, Rubio insists that Planned Parenthood somehow forces women into getting more abortions.“Now what you've done is created an industry, now what you've done is created an incentive for people to be pushed into abortions so that those tissues can be harvested and sold for a profit,” he told Iowa television station KCCI.

Rubio’s anti-Planned Parenthood position stems mostly from his strict pro-life views. He believes that abortions should be banned, with exceptions only being made if the mother’s life is in danger—not in cases of rape or incest. This stance has been met with concern even by fellow conservatives, like New Jersey governor Chris Christie who claimed Rubio’s anti-abortion logic to be too extreme. The Florida senator has also misrepresented other candidates’ stances on abortion, falsely claiming that Hillary Clinton supports abortion “even on the due date.”

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Ted Cruz

Texan senator Ted Cruz’s platform is based on the strengthening of pro-gun legislature, increasing deportations of undocumented immigrants, and asserting state power to define marriage, even after the Supreme Court declared gay marriage universally legal. With that, he also fights actively against organizations for Planned Parenthood and does not support legislation that would fight for wage equality.

Wage Gap

When directly asked about the wage gap in October, Ted Cruz expressed his belief that women can find themselves in financially more vulnerable situations than men, citing a brief period in his youth when his father left his family. But when pressed for policy proposals, he simply stated that he believes President Obama’s actions in office have hurt women as a whole: "Under Barack Obama, 3.7 million women have entered poverty.” Yet this statistic doesn’t quite check out, and it doesn’t provide a real solution to the wage gap.

In the Senate, he voted against the Paycheck Fairness Act (three times). He claims to personally support maternity and paternity leave, but he does not support federal action to enforce them. This leaves him without any proposals that could create a solution to the wage gap.


With “Life, Marriage, and Family” as one of his platforms, Cruz adamantly opposes abortion. He defended the New Hampshire parental notification law, which necessitates parental notification 48 hours before minors get abortions, against the Supreme Court.

Although fellow candidate Donald Trump also opposes abortion and the funding of Planned Parenthood, Cruz has released an ad attacking the billionaire for his personal belief that the nonprofit does do some good work. In the video, it is clear that the Texas senator, like many others, believes that Planned Parenthood illegally profits off the sale of fetal tissue. “Planned Parenthood treats the unborn like another form of currency,” he says in the ad.

If elected, the senator also says he would pardon David Daleiden, the anti-abortion activist who was charged for filming undercover videos at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic. What’s more, he also says that his own federal investigation of the nonprofit would be a priority if he were to take office. “I’ve pledged on the very first day in office to open an investigation into Planned Parenthood, and to prosecute any and all criminal conduct by that organization,” he said.

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Bernie Sanders

The Vermont senator could easily be considered the most liberal of the presidential candidates for 2016. With a long, long history of fighting for equalities across race and gender, he includes women’s interests as a part of his campaign, alongside efforts to end the crisis of college debt and a fight against the ticking clock of climate change. Across the board, Sanders proposes to close the wage gap, provide paid family leave, and protect women’s reproductive rights.

Wage Gap

At a campaign rally in August, Sanders urged the male attendees to take note of the inequality of the wage gap. “I hope every man in this room will stand with the women and fight for pay equity for women workers,” he said. “There is no rational economic reason why women should earn seventy-eight cents on the dollar compared to men, and that has got to change.” In light of this position, Sanders supported the Paycheck Fairness Act in Congress, as well as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which makes it legal for a woman to sue for discriminatory pay standards.


In response to increasing efforts by Republicans to cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood, Sanders released a statement in 2015 condemning the efforts. “Let’s be clear,” he wrote. “Federal funding for Planned Parenthood does not pay for abortions. The vast majority of government funding that Planned Parenthood receives is through Medicaid reimbursements. Cutting that funding will be devastating to the health needs of millions of women who desperately need the quality services Planned Parenthood provides.”

Throughout Sanders' political career, he has always voted from a pro-choice perspective when it comes to abortion. As far as partial-birth abortions, he voted to ban them, except in cases where the mother’s life is threatened. In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, the senator vocalized his stance simply: “We are not returning to the days of back-room abortions, when countless women died or were maimed. The decision about abortion must remain a decision for the woman, her family and physician to make, not the government.”

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ben Carson

This former neurosurgeon has based his campaign on repealing ObamaCare, securing the border, and fighting against abortion providers. Although he has remained vague on specifics affecting the glass ceiling, his pro-life stance is strong and heavily based on an emotional appeal.

Wage Gap

Carson has not specifically addressed the issues of the wage gap or paid maternity leave. However, he has expressed his support for an increased minimum wage, which could assist in closing the wage gap. He posits that an increased minimum wage would give unemployed citizens greater motivation to get a job (which, frankly, evokes stereotypical images of the welfare queen). Although his position does not present a full plan to tackle income inequality, Carson’s support of an increased wage makes him stand apart from his fellow conservatives.


While many people today would argue that politicians have become too heavy-handed trying to restrict a woman’s right to do what she would like to her own body, Carson attests that there is no war on women. Rather, he says, “may be a war on what's inside women.” Though he may be a former physician, Carson is not quick to use medical, or even anatomical terminology to describe a fetus, ovum, uterus, or anything else that may be “inside women.”

“The war is on their babies,” Carson said of fetal tissue that has not yet developed. “Babies that cannot defend themselves. Over the past few decades, we have destroyed 55 million of them. And we have the nerve to call other societies of the past heathen. What we need to do is re-educate the women to understand that they are the defenders of these babies.”

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton

Back in 1995 when the United Nations held the Fourth World Congress on Women, Hillary Clinton, then-First Lady, voiced a stance that made her feminist identity known: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” she said, addressing a room full of women from around the world. Now more than 20 years later, women’s rights, including closing the wage gap, breaking the glass ceiling, and allowing women the right to choose, are a key part of Clinton’s presidential campaign.

Wage Gap

In order to close the wage gap, Clinton proposes legislation (like the Paycheck Fairness Act) that makes it easier for women to find out exactly when they aren’t being paid as much as men with the same job. She supports raising the minimum wage, and she proposes a plan for paid family leave that would give mothers up to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave or paid leave to take care of a sick family member. Clinton also pushes for universal preschool and affordable childcare, building upon efforts started by President Obama.

In the past, Clinton has been attacked by claims that men in her Senate office were paid more than women—when really, men and women achieved the same median salary, and Clinton hired two times as many women as men.


In her last run for president back in 2008, Clinton expressed her opinion that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare,” however, she has since expanded her position to position abortions in a less shameful light and she has developed proposals that would allow women to achieve abortions, should they need them.

While Marco Rubio may claim that Clinton supports abortions up to a due date, Clinton supports a ban on late-term and partial-birth abortions, except for when a mother’s life is threatened.

Clinton has called for the end of the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits Medicaid from covering abortion costs, so that low-income women who rely on Medicaid for their healthcare service have to pay out of pocket for the expensive procedure. In this call to abolish the amendment, she also said that the right to an abortion is a “universal human right.”

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John Kasich

Ohio governor John Kasich may not get a lot of publicity, but his team asserts his electability due to the fact that he comes from Ohio, which is a swing state. His platform heavily supports the defense of the second amendment, as well as the protection of the “sanctity of human life.”

Wage Gap

According to Kasich, paid maternity leave is partially the reason for the wage gap, and when women take time off to raise their newborns, they fall behind on experience. His solution for this? "The one thing we need to do for working women is give them the flexibility to be able to work at home online,” he claims. But since 40 percent of Americans are ineligible for paid leave in the first place, this likely is not the main cause of the wage gap—and Kasich does not have any other solutions to the problem.

Incidentally, an investigation also led to the discovery that women in Kasich’s own office earn approximately $10-an-hour less than men in the office. When addressing the wage gap as a whole, he blames it on a lack of “skills” and “experience.”


In the past five years that Kasich has been in office, he has enacted 16 anti-abortion measures. The number of abortion providers in the state, as a result, was cut in half. The latest bill he signed effectively defunds Planned Parenthood in the state of Ohio, cutting it off from $1.3 million of funding (but the clinics will still receive their federally mandated funding from Medicare, allowing them to remain open).

He does think abortions for cases of incest, rape, and the life of the mother are “reasonable.” However, he did sign into effect a budget bill that imposes a gag rule on rape crisis centers, preventing them from providing rape survivors with information on abortion.