While North Carolina’s Senate candidates agree on some issues, their views diverge dramatically on reproductive health care. Read the other state-by-state analyses in this series here.
North Carolina Senator Kay Hagan (D) and Speaker of the North Carolina House Thom Tillis (R) are in a neck-and-neck race for that state’s Senate seat, and all eyes are watching to see where women voters place their bets. A number of polls show Hagan with a slight lead over Tillis, but women voters – who turned out at higher rates than men in the last two elections – could certainly make a winner of either candidate on Tuesday. According to The New York Times, “Like other important Senate elections this year, the North Carolina race could ultimately be decided by the size of Ms. Hagan’s margin among women.” Tomorrow’s election will determine who fills a critical Senate seat, and that will influence a host of issues impacting women and families at the state and national level.
Where do women in North Carolina stand?
- Seventeen percent of North Carolina’s women (18.9 percent of black women and 38.8 percent of Latina women) are uninsured. One in ten women receive health care coverage through Medicaid.
- There has been a decrease in the teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina from 76.1 percent in 2000 to 49.7 percent in 2010.
- North Carolina does not have paid sick leave or paid parental leave.
- According to the National Women’s Law Center, women who work full-time in minimum wage jobs (paying $7.25 per hour) earn just $14,500 a year, leaving them more than $4,000 below the federal poverty line for a mother with two children.
- 17 percent of women in North Carolina live in poverty, including more than a third (34 percent) of black families and 39 percent of Hispanic families with children, and 36 percent of families headed by single mothers.
- If North Carolina began to increase the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour this year, by 2016 approximately 578,000 women would get a raise. A jump to $10.10 an hour would increase annual full-time earnings by $5,700 to $20,200, which would pull a family of three out of poverty. That increase would also create or support about 3,700 new jobs in the state and generate over $1 billion in additional economic activity.
- Affordable childcare is hard to come by in North Carolina, and average costs run more than $9,000 a year for infants and nearly $8,000 a year for toddlers.
- There is a significant gender wage gap in North Carolina, with women working full-time year-round paid only 82 cents for every dollar paid to their male counterparts. Compared to white men, Black women make only 64 cents, and Latina women only 54 cents, on the dollar.
Where do the candidates stand?
Affordable Care Act
In 2013, Tillis led the North Carolina general assembly’s rejection of Medicaid expansion, claiming participating in one of the key pillars of the ACA would hurt taxpayers in his state. However, on the campaign trail he has warmed up to expansion, recently saying he thinks it might make sense for the state to participate in expansion “once the state has better control of the financing of the program.”
Hagan delivered a key vote in support of the Affordable Care Act and has advocated for the state’s expansion of Medicaid, citing the 500,000 individuals who would gain coverage.
Tillis supported a law that took state funding away from Planned Parenthood. Of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision – which allowed employers to deny insurance coverage for contraceptive methods they believe violate their religious beliefs – Tillis said, “The American people are the clear winners.” But he then argued that birth control pills should simply be made available over the counter so that more women could have access to them, a move criticized by health advocates who argued that was simply a way to shift costs away from employers and insurance companies and onto women.
Hagan co-sponsored and voted for the “Not My Boss’ Business” bill, which would have reinstated the ACA’s contraceptive mandate. She said, “Employers who make their employees pay out-of-pocket for contraceptives just aren’t imposing their personal beliefs… They’re also making it much more difficult for women to access important, potentially lifesaving medical prescriptions and medical treatment.”
Tillis is endorsed by one of the country’s leading anti-choice organizations, National Right to Life. He supports the bill introduced by Senator Lindsey Graham that would make abortions after 20 weeks illegal. In 2009, he co-sponsored a state bill that would require doctors to provide pre-abortion counseling that warned of risks such as breast cancer, even though all major American medical associations say there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. In 2011, Tillis championed a mandatory ultrasound bill and during primary season he said he was supportive of “personhood” measures, as long as they made exceptions for rape, incest, and when a women’s life was in danger.
Hagan has been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood. “I am a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose …I would like to see abortions be safe, legal, and rare. These decisions are best made privately by a woman in consultation with her doctor.” Hagan also supports the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would prevent states from applying regulations to reproductive health care providers that do not also apply to other low-risk medical procedures.
Violence Against Women
Tillis has praised the Violence Against Women Act, saying it has been “instrumental in raising awareness about domestic violence and has provided women with vital support services…I will never hesitate … to ensure that partisan politics doesn’t get in the way of effective and commonsense legislation to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse”
Hagan also supported the Violence Against Women Act in Congress and worked to include a provision that encourages health care providers to improve identification and response methods to domestic violence.
In his position as House Speaker Tillis blocked a paycheck fairness act in the state legislature, arguing that while he opposes workplace discrimination, the proposed legislation was redundant given the pre-existing federal regulations. Tillis says he supports equal pay for equal work, but believes “current law is sufficient to ensure it.” Tillis denounced calls for new legislation as “campaign gimmicks.”
Hagan voted to pass Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2009, a law meant to restore protections against pay discrimination on the basis of sex, race, national origin, age, religion, or disability. She also supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which strengthens the 1938 Equal Pay protections against sex-based wage discrimination.
Tillis is on record as saying the North Carolina General Assembly should not raise the minimum wage, citing concerns that cost increases would lead to job losses. He has also said he opposes federal minimum wage legislation because decisions should be left up to state legislators. “Kay Hagan wants to create a minimum wage economy…What I want to do is create jobs that make minimum wage irrelevant.”
Hagan favors incrementally increasing the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour.
Read the rest of this series here.
Andrea Flynn is a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Follow her on Twitter @dreaflynn.
Molly Williams is a senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill studying public policy and sociology.