'Women's Issues' in the 2012 Election

Students consider the debate over such issues as access to contraception, abortion, and equal pay in the 2012 presidential election and discuss their own perspectives on these issues.


Introduction for the Teacher

Ann Romney hasn't worked a day in her life.

Conservative radio host declares Georgetown law student "a slut" for arguing that birth control should be covered by her health care plan.

Money is more important for men.

In the case of "legitimate rape," a woman's body knows how to reject that kind of thing [i.e. getting pregnant]


This presidential election season the focus on "women's issues," like reproductive rights, healthcare coverage, income disparity, and women as mothers and homemakers has galvanized many women into political action. In the lesson plan that follows, students are encouraged to look at some of the issues that have emerged in the election.  Students will be asked to take a stand on various issues (represented in a range of statements below) and discuss their perspectives on these issues.


Students will:

  • Discuss "women's issues" in general
  • Share different perspectives and opinions on the women's issues debated this election season in particular
  • Share how many (and what) US political parties they know
  • Research the stance of the different political parties women's issues

Social and Emotional Skills:

  • Active listening to potentially opposing views
  • Conflict resolution skills
  • Critical thinking skills


Materials Needed:

  • Today's agenda on chart paper or on the board
  • Chart paper, markers and tape
  • Two Signs, one that reads "STRONGLY AGREE" and one that reads "STRONGLY DISAGREE" (masking tape to mark a line on the floor in between the two signs)
  • Internet connection for homework assignment



(5 minutes)

Begin by asking students if they are following the 2012 election.  Have they  heard any discussion about women's issues during this election season? If so, what?  

Ask students: What are "women's issues"?  Are they different from men's issues?  If so, how?

You might mention a couple of examples of "women's issues" in this election season. For instance Missouri Republican Representative Todd Akin, who is trying to unseat Missouri's Democratic senator, caused an uproar when he said in an interview that women who were victims of "legitimate rape" rarely got pregnant. Republicans, including presidential nominee Mitt Romney tried to distance themselves from Akin's inaccurate and disturbing statement.

Democratic operative Hilary Rosen also caused an uproar when she said on CNN that Mitt Romney's wife Ann Romney has "actually never worked a day in her life" - and is therefore a poor adviser on women's economic issues. Ann Romney responded: "I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."


Human barometer on women's issues

(35 minutes)

In the Human Barometer activity students respond to a series of statements by placing themselves physically along a continuum that runs from "strongly agree" to "strongly disagree."  Although people often think that things are either right or wrong, good or bad, there is usually a range of opinions in between.  Because we all have different life experiences and have often been exposed to different information, our opinions tend to vary greatly.  This activity explores different perspectives and opinions represented in your classroom.

To prepare this activity, post one sign saying "STRONGLY AGREE" on one side of the class room and another saying "STRONGLY DISAGREE" on the other side.  If you like, you can use masking tape to create a line on the floor between the two signs to indicate the continuum between the two extremes. 

When introducing the activity, instruct students to place themselves along the continuum between the two signs, according to how much they agree or disagree with the statement you'll read to them (see below).  Encourage students to take a real stand and not be in the middle of the room too often.  Stress that you'll be asking for opinions and a rationale for those opinions; there are no right or wrong answers.  Encourage students to take a risk—when their opinion varies from others in the room, ask them to take a stand anyway and explain why they believe what they do.  This will allow everyone to gain a deeper understanding of the issues being explored today.

Read one of the short descriptions of the major candidates' positions below. Then  read the statement about that issue, and ask students to move to the place in the room that represents their point of view. Then ask students to look around the room to see where other students have positioned themselves.  Ask some volunteers to explain why they chose their spot.  Elicit a range of opinions and rationales before moving on to the next statement, beginning with opinions from the majority group then moving to the less popular opinions in the room.  Alternatively, pick a student to start sharing their opinion and rationale and have that student pick the next student to share.

Remind students that this is not a debate.  When students share their opinion, the rest of the class listens actively.  Only when the student is done sharing, will the next student get a chance to share a similar or contrasting opinion and/or rationale.

To add more depth to the activity, give students a chance to change positions on the continuum based on the information shared by their fellow classmates.  If students choose to change their position on the continuum, ask them what made them change their minds.

Use as many statements as makes sense in the time you have available.  You can use the ones below or make up your own to encourage the kind of critical thinking you're hoping students will achieve in your class.

Democrats vs. Republicans on 4 election issues that affect women

(Source: Christian Science Monitor

1.  Healthcare

Obama: Obama's healthcare law will add millions of women to the insurance rolls, providing subsidies and guarantees of coverage that benefit women. It also requires that insurers cover preventive services such as mammograms, prenatal care, and certain cancer screenings. Insurance plans must also cover birth control, though religious institutions are exempted.

Romney: Romney proposes to repeal Obama's healthcare law, which he says is too expensive and puts too much control in the hands of government. He maintains that this will encourage innovation at the state level in that it will promote competition among insurers and makes coverage more affordable.

Statement: The government shouldn't legislate healthcare coverage; this is something for market forces to determine.

2. Contraception

Obama: The Obama healthcare reform law requires insurance companies to cover contraception - including the pill, the morning-after pill and sterilization - in employee health plans, though the law exempts religious institutions from complying with this provision for their employees. President Obama argues that access to contraception is an important part of women's health.

Romney: Romney does not oppose the use of birth control. But his repeal of Obama's healthcare law would eliminate the guarantees of contraceptive coverage. He does support a constitutional amendment stating that life begins at conception, and because some forms of birth control prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, some social conservatives believe they cause early miscarriages and should be banned.

Statement: "Government has no business forcing insurers to pay for contraception."

3. Abortion

Obama: President Obama supports a woman's right to choose abortion, and opposes efforts to add restrictions to that right at both the federal and state level. Vice President Joe Biden says he personally opposes abortion but doesn't believe he has the right to impose his view on the rest of society.  For him therefore the government should stay out of a woman's right to choose. He is committed to upholding the Supreme Court decision of Roe vs. Wade, though he does not agree federal funding should pay for abortion.

Romney: Romney and his vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan both oppose abortion. Romney allows for exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and a threat to the life of the mother. Previously, Ryan favored only the "life of the mother" exception, but now that he's Mitt Romney's running mate, he says he's comfortable with the other exceptions. The Republican Party platform has also long opposed abortion, calling for a constitutional ban without exceptions

Statement: Women should have the right to choose abortion.

4. Equal pay

According to US Census data, women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work and level of experience.

Obama: In 2009, Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which allows women more time to file wage-discrimination lawsuits. Obama also supports the Paycheck Fairness Act, which aims to make it easier for women to prove wage discrimination, and makes it easier for employees to get information about their salaries.

Romney: The Romney campaign has not taken a stand on this legislation. When asked about pay equity for women, his campaign responded: "In order to have pay equity, women need to have jobs, and they have been getting crushed in this anemic Obama economy, losing far more jobs than men. As president, Mitt Romney will create a pro-jobs business climate that will put all Americans back to work."

Statement: We need laws to help equalize wages between men and women.


Below are more general statements about women's issues to consider using with your students:

  • Women and men are equal
  • Women and men have equal access to all types of jobs
  • Men are more capable leaders than women
  • Women are better than men at multitasking and juggling a wide range of responsibilities
  • Women deserve to get paid the same as men for the same work
  • Being a parent and homemaker is one of the most important jobs in the world
  • In the political debate today, our focus on gender issues has diverted too much attention from important issues
  • Sexism has run rampant in this year's presidential campaign
  • Government has an important role to play when it comes to women's equality
  • Government has an important role to play when it comes to women's reproductive rights
  • More women in government would strengthen our political process
  • In this tight presidential race, the women's vote is critical
  • The battle over the women's votes has defined the 2012 presidential election



Beyond the two major parties

(5 minutes)

Although the human barometer activity students participated in included only the positions of the two major party candidates, there are other political parties in the U.S. Before wrapping up the lesson, ask students to list as many American political parties as they know.  Alternatively, put numbers 1 through 5 on the board and ask students to list the five main political parties in the US today -

1.      The Constitution Party

2.      The Democratic Party

3.      The Green Party

4.      The Libertarian Party

5.      The Republican Party

For more political parties in the US today go to: http://2012election.procon.org/sourcefiles/2008party_lables.pdf

Then for homework ask students to research what the different political parties' stance is on women's issues (recognizing that women's issues may be listed and discussed under such headings as equality, health care, abortion, etc.).  Ask students to get started with the Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues website -  an independent, nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity at  http://2012election.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004483

From there they can continue and deepen their research elsewhere on the web or at the library.