Obama and Romney on women's issues
By Janel Davis
Published on Tuesday, October 30th, 2012 at 6:00 a.m.
Women are a key demographic of this presidential campaign.
Both Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama have targeted this swing group, trying to sway female voters on issues such as contraception, equity pay and employment.
The focus on females has produced some of the most memorable statements during the campaign from both men and their running mates, Vice President Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
Below are abbreviated versions of fact checks about the candidates’ statements during the campaign. Look for the complete fact checks at the PolitiFact online sites.
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Romney: "Since President Obama took office, there are over 450,000 more unemployed women."
The Republican presidential nominee made this claim in a campaign ad.
Starting the count on the day Obama was sworn in ignores the reality that no president can have much impact on the economy in his first weeks or even months on the job -- a point that’s particularly important in Obama’s case because the job numbers were in a virtual free fall when he began his term in January 2009. On the other hand, starting the count at the low point, one year after taking office, shields Obama from any responsibility for more than a year.
We’ve often taken a middle ground, starting the count in June 2009, which was the official start of the recovery and a few months after Obama’s stimulus law took effect.
As it turns out, using June 2009 makes a major difference in the result. Between June 2009 and September 2012, the number of unemployed women actually decreased by 548,000.
And the rise in women’s unemployment under Obama pales compared with the rise experienced under President George W. Bush. These important pieces of context are left out of the ad. On balance, we rated the claim Half True.
Obama: "Women (are) paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men."
The Obama campaign repeated this oft-cited statistic in a June ad aimed at women and touting his work to close the pay differential between men and women.
"Obama knows that women being paid 77 cents on the dollar for doing the same work as men isn't just unfair, it hurts families. So the first law he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to help ensure that women are paid the same as men for doing the exact same work," the ad said.
In a report released in September 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau wrote that in 2010 the female-to-male earnings ratio of full-time, year-round workers was 0.77. Translated into dollars, that means that in 2010, women working full time earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by men working full time.
The 77-cent figure compares all male and female workers, regardless of their occupation. Indeed, if you look at men and women working in the same professions, the pay gap is much smaller (though, for most professions, it doesn’t disappear entirely).
The Obama campaign took a legitimate statistic and described it in a way that makes it sound much more dramatic than it actually is. The 77-cent figure is real, but it does not factor in occupations held, hours worked or length of tenure. Describing that statistic as referring to the pay for women "doing the same work as men" earned it a rating of Mostly False.
Ryan: Said Biden "went to China and said that he sympathized and wouldn't second-guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations."
Romney’s running mate made this claim during his vice presidential debate with Biden on Oct. 11. He characterized the Democratic Party as increasingly supportive of abortion, "without restriction and with taxpayer funding."
In an interview during a 2011 visit to China, Biden answered a student’s question about the United States’ downgraded credit rating and its plan for reducing the deficit. Then he likened the situation to China’s growing inequity in the ratio of workers to seniors -- a consequence of its one-child policy:
"Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I’m not second-guessing -- of one child per family. The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable."
Shortly after Biden’s China visit, the White House said he called the one-child policy unsustainable. He didn’t, though: He said a situation in which one worker takes care of four retired people is "not sustainable."
Biden did not use the word "sympathize" and didn’t endorse the one-child policy. Instead, he said that he understood it and wouldn’t second-guess it. Days after the speech, his spokeswoman said he specifically condemned "coercive birth limitation policies."
Ryan’s claim contains a kernel of truth, but it ignores critical context that would leave a different impression. We rated this Mostly False.
Obama: Said Romney and Ryan "both backed proposals that would outlaw abortions even in cases of rape or incest."
(This fact check was corrected to note that Romney has said he would allow abortion when the life of the mother is in jeopardy. We had mistakenly said "health" of the mother in our original version.)
The Obama campaign made abortion rights a central point at the Democratic convention and put out a TV ad in mid-September casting Romney as favoring the most hard-line position on abortion rights.
That is true for Ryan. His opposition to abortion, including in cases of rape and incest, is clear. Romney chose Ryan as his running mate, and now Ryan says he’ll follow Romney’s lead.
Romney has said he supports an amendment that defines life as beginning at conception. When he said that, there was no specific amendment language for him to consider. The term "life begins at conception" is strongly associated with banning abortion, and in some advocates’ view, without exception for rape and incest.
But Romney has distanced himself from formal personhood amendments, and he made clear in National Review that he supports exceptions for rape or incest. Still, his words and his choice of Ryan tend to blur the distinctions that he himself would emphasize.
We rated the statement Half True.
Obama: Said Romney "has refused to say whether he would have vetoed or signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act."
Asked about fair pay for women during the second presidential debate, Obama was quick to bring up the first piece of legislation he signed into law -- the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Obama went on to say, "when Governor Romney's campaign was asked about the Lilly Ledbetter bill, whether he supported it, he said, ‘I'll get back to you.’ And that's not the kind of advocacy that women need in any economy."
During an April conference call covered by a Washington Post blogger, a Huffington Post reporter asked an unnamed Romney adviser whether Romney supported the Lilly Ledbetter Act. The adviser responded, "Sam (Stein), we’ll get back to you on that."
Later, Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul clarified in an email, "He supports pay equity and is not looking to change current law."
So Obama is correct about the initial statement, but Romney later clarified by saying he wouldn't change the law. We rated Obama's claim Mostly True.
Romney: Said a university survey concluded his Massachusetts administration "had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America."
In perhaps one of the most memorable exchanges of this season’s presidential debates, Romney made the case that women were provided notable leadership opportunities during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts.
Romney said that he used "binders full of women" from women’s groups to help staff his administration, resulting in a Cabinet and senior staff with "more women in senior leadership positions than any other state in America."
He cited a survey from the University at Albany-SUNY, published in 2004, a year after he took office. The report focused on a snapshot of policy leaders by gender in 2003. And indeed, it ranked Massachusetts No. 1 in the nation, up from No. 5 in the previous surveys in 1999 and 2001.
Of 20 top policy leaders in the state, half were women, according to self-reported statistics from the administration.
Twenty-one states actually employed more women in senior roles in 2003. Rather, Massachusetts had the best percentage in the country, something that earned the state positive recognition. But that’s a small clarification.
A broader study that looked at all of Romney’s appointments and the percentage of women before and after his term found that his effort flagged halfway through his administration — and that the overall percentage of women in executive positions actually dropped.
Still, Romney fairly accurately characterized a survey that ranked his state No. 1. We rated his claim Mostly True.
Obama: Said Romney suggested that "employers should be able to make the decision as to whether or not a woman gets contraception through her insurance coverage."
Obama and Romney clashed over contraceptives coverage in their second debate. The issue emerged after a question from the audience about how the candidates intended to fix income inequality for women.
Obama’s support for his claim centers on something called the Blunt amendment. Earlier this year Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sponsored an amendment that would exempt employers from providing any service that went against their "beliefs or moral convictions." At the time, the issue put the Obama administration on the defensive and the president himself appeared at the White House briefing room to explain a work-around for religious-affiliated hospitals, universities and the like.
A few weeks later, with a vote on the Blunt amendment pending, Romney was asked where he stood. He told a Boston radio interviewer "Of course I support the Blunt amendment."
A statement from the Romney campaign acknowledges that he opposes a nationwide mandate for contraception coverage. In the absence of a federal mandate, that would sometimes leave the decision to employers whether to offer coverage for birth control.
(Before the federal health care law was passed under the Obama administration, 27 states already required such coverage, though we’re not sure how many had religious exceptions.)
Romney says he doesn’t believe bureaucrats or employers should make the call whether a woman can use contraceptives. But his support for the Blunt amendment endorses the approach that employers should be able to make the decision about whether contraception is covered by employees’ insurance. We rated Obama’s claim True.
Obama: Said Romney opposes requiring employers to cover contraception and would eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood.
Obama furthered his criticism of Romney’s stance on women’s issues in an ad put out in August claiming that Romney opposed the contraception mandate and would eliminate Planned Parenthood funding.
Romney’s stance on contraceptive coverage became clear during the Republican primaries. Early this year, congressional Republicans made a big push to roll back a provision of the health care law that requires all employers except religious ones to provide birth-control services without any out-of-pocket costs.
Romney repeated his opposition to the current rule during separate interviews and said, "As president, I will abolish it." We conclude from those comments that Romney would not just abolish the requirements for religious organizations, but for any employer that had a moral or religious objection.
Romney has repeated his plan to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood many times. He said it in a letter to voters that was published in Life News, a news service that opposes abortion rights. On his website, he goes further and says he will eliminate all family planning funds under the Public Health Service Act. That program, Title X, costs about $300 million and was created in 1970 under the Nixon administration.
Romney has said he would abolish the contraceptive coverage requirement, and he has said repeatedly that he would eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
We rated the statement True.
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Researchers: Janel Davis
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