Stephanie Hallett
September 28, 2016 6:03 pm
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton may have covered a fair bit of ground during the debate Monday night — they tackled everything from economic stimulus to police use of force — but there were two topics we really hoped to hear about and they weren’t mentioned even once: reproductive rights and sexual assault.

At a time when violence against abortion clinics and doctors is at an all-time high, and convicted rapists are walking free after just three months behind bars, you’d think these topics would be salient during a presidential debate. But instead of discussing women’s rights, we heard about Trump’s racist birther crusade and how he thinks Hillary hasn’t been very “nice” to him (ugh).

Topics like reproductive choice and sexual violence matter during a presidential election because the federal government’s actions on these issues can make a very real difference in women’s (and everyone’s!) lives.

Take reproductive rights, for example: Around the country, state Republicans have fought hard over the last few years to make women’s access to abortion virtually nonexistent. In many states, they’ve succeeded. But some anti-abortion laws that had been passed in Texas made it to the Supreme Court this year — and they were struck down. That’s definitely good news, but at a time when Republicans in Congress are fighting to prevent the appointment of President Obama’s centrist Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, a president who is for or against a woman’s right to choose could have a real impact on abortion access.

Since it’s unlikely that Garland will be vetted and approved before Obama is out of office, the next president will be nominating a ninth judge to the court. Someone like Trump, who has said he is “pro-life with exceptions,” is likely to choose someone whose views align with his — meaning we could end up with a judge who’s in favor of rolling back Roe v. Wade and eliminating constitutional protections for abortion.

Plus, congressional Republicans have also been pushing to defund Planned Parenthood all year, so if Trump becomes president and Republicans end up with control of the Senate and the House after the November election, funding for Planned Parenthood and other federally-funded reproductive health centers could be totally wiped out.

Clinton, on the other hand, has long been an advocate for reproductive choice. As she said on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in January,

She would likely choose a more liberal judge — someone like our beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg — who would continue to protect a woman’s right to choose in the face of restrictive, anti-choice laws, and she’d also likely work to keep funding for women’s health firmly in place.

As far as sexual assault is concerned, the federal government can have a huge impact on how these crimes are understood in society by helping to define consent and speaking openly about the realities of sexual assault, as the current administration has. And in the case of campus rape, it can investigate — and punish — schools when they fail to take strong action on behalf of student survivors.

President Obama and Vice President Biden have made ending campus rape a touchstone of their time in office. They have dedicated a great deal of resources to changing the conversation around campus sexual assault and they’ve supported the Department of Education in its investigations of schools like American University, where a hearing for one student’s assault was repeatedly delayed. (At present, there are nearly 200 schools under investigation by the Education Department. It received a $7 million budgetary increase last year — $107 million from $100 million — though that was short of President Obama’s proposed $31 million increase.)

We think it’s time these critical “women’s” issues became election issues — and we’re not the only ones saying so.

On Monday night, Twitter activists aimed the hashtags #AskAboutAbortion and #AskAboutWomen at debate moderator Lester Holt to tell him that these issues matter.

While it didn’t work this week, there are still two more presidential debates to go — October 9th and October 19th (and the VP debate is on October 4th) — so there’s still time to push for these topics to be address by the candidates.

Let’s do better next time, shall we?

And while you’ve got the debate on your mind, take a sec to fill out this election survey People magazine put together to see who Time Inc readers are voting for and why. (Bonus: Once you fill out the quick survey, you’ll receive a discount code that will give you 20% off at the People Shop.)

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