Women's reproductive rights mark key issue in N.C. Senate race
A dramatic gender divide has the potential to influence one of the most tightly contested U.S. Senate races in the country.
The current senatorial race between incumbent Democratic Senator Kay Hagan and N.C. House of Representatives Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, has been too close call. According to a recent Elon University poll, 52 percent of women are in favor of Hagan retaining her seat in the U.S. Senate, while 33 percent of women support Tillis’ bid instead. The male breakdown is almost a mirror image, with 50 percent of men supporting Tillis and 38 percent supporting Hagan.
The voting records of the candidates stand in stark opposition on several issues—including on women’s health issues such as abortion and birth control. Planned Parenthood Votes, an organization that advocates for women’s health, has recently stepped into the ring by announcing a $500,000 ad-buy in North Carolina attacking Tillis’ record on women’s issues.
“Kay [Hagan] believes that decisions about women’s health should be between a woman and her doctor, not between a woman and her boss, and not between a woman and her senator, for that matter," said Chris Hayden, press secretary for the Hagan campaign.
Despite Hayden's assertion that Tillis' voting record is harmful to women's rights, a number of female N.C. voters stand by the Republican candidate. Zan Bunn—president of the North Carolina Federation of Republican Women—for example, is confident in Tillis's campaign.
“First of all, all issues are women’s issues. Women are concerned with jobs, and the economy, and whether their families are able to put money on the table,” Bunn said.
Hayden referenced Tillis’ support for the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, which granted corporations the right to refuse birth control coverage on religious grounds. The Hagan campaign, as well as Planned Parenthood, has independently raised objections to numerous other measures Tillis has supported.
Among these is a controversial ultrasound bill that required abortion doctors to deliberately show women a picture of their ultrasound–a move that drew accusations of shaming women out of abortions and intruding on the privileged relationship between doctors and patients. A federal court later struck down the law. Other measures the Hagan camp finds objectionable include Tillis’ attempts to defund Planned Parenthood—which Hayden described as instrumental for providing women preventative care—and his killing of an equal pay law in Raleigh.
The Hagan campaign had no comment on Planned Parenthood’s recent ad-buy, but did reiterate that Planned Parenthood Votes is unaffiliated with the campaign.
“Tillis’ policy position masquerades as a solution, but it is not one. Women aren’t fooled by this last-ditch political ploy,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Votes. “We’re going to work every day between now and November 4th to make sure voters know where the candidates stand on birth control access and other important women’s health issues.”
Tillis’ attempts to reconcile with women voters have been met with controversy. He recently expressed support for expanding over-the-counter birth control pills, but Planned Parenthood has used a recent ad campaign to argue that Tillis is putting on a false act. PPV contends that by removing birth control from insurance coverage, Tillis’ measure actually makes birth control more of a burden for women.
"On election day, we will know whether more men or women support Tillis or Hagan," Bunn said. "If people examine the difference, I think they’ll report Tillis.”
John Aldrich, Pfizer-Pratt University Professor of Political Science, argued that Tillis will face a daunting challenge if he wants to recover the female vote.
“Insofar as he’s able, I think he’s going to stay away from them. I think it’s easier for him to do it that way. Its always possible something forces him to address it, but unless that happens I think he’s going to stay silent,” Aldrich siad.
He added that Tillis’ main strategy from this point on is to avoid further antagonizing the women demographic and thus driving them to the polls.
There is great potential for that the female demographic to have a big impact on this election, Aldrich said. Hagan’s chances of winning depend on how well she mobilizes the women’s vote, he explained.
“It’s hard to observe how successful the Hagan campaign has been in this regard. Its going to be a sort of mystery, from an observer’s point of view," Aldrich said. "She did a good job in 2008, but that was six years ago.”