In honor of Women’s History Month, a Washington-based conservative nonprofit decided to create an award this year. It would recognize public figures who have “been consistent champions of the economic reforms that women need most,” according to the group.
The Independent Women’s Forum named it the “Working for Women” award. The inaugural recipient of the honor? Vice President Pence.
The choice was a natural one for IWF, which advocates for women who value free-markets and personal liberty, a spokeswoman said.
“Vice President Pence’s name was at the top of the list given his track record of advocating for free markets and limited government including rolling back heavy taxation and regulation,” IWF spokeswoman Victoria Coley said in an email. “These policy positions help create the conditions for more women to thrive professionally and personally and pursue their vision of the American Dream.”
However, the decision has raised eyebrows at a few other women’s and civil rights groups, who say Pence’s record has been anything but friendly to women. The vice president has long been at odds with liberal women’s-rights advocates who have called him out on everything from his 1999 argument that women shouldn’t serve in the military to the antiabortion legislation he pushed as a lawmaker and governor.
“I must say I find it somewhat ironic that he would be winning the ‘Working for Women’ award when basically he has spent his career in politics working against women, not for women,” Lenora Lapidus, director of the Women’s Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Washington Post. “He has a long track record both during his years in Congress and as governor of Indiana of basically taking position after position that is anti-women and harmful to women.”
Before being tapped to become Trump’s running mate, Pence, 57, had served as governor of Indiana since 2013. Before that, he was a congressman representing Indiana’s 2nd and 6th districts, from 2001 to 2013. A staunch conservative who describes himself as a “born-again, evangelical Catholic,” Pence has said that his faith informs his life.
Women’s reproductive rights
Pence’s antiabortion stance was in full view throughout the presidential campaign. Speaking at the Values Voter Summit last September, Pence said he would help Trump restrict abortion rights and perhaps overturn Roe v. Wade.
“I want to live to see the day that we put the sanctity of life back at the center of American law, and we send Roe v. Wade to the ash heap of history, where it belongs,” Pence told the crowd.
When he was governor, Pence last March signed sweeping new abortion restrictions into place. Among many things, the new law would have required that women obtaining informed consent for an abortion to “view the fetal ultrasound imaging and hear the auscultation of the fetal heart tone” at least 18 hours before the procedure. It also banned abortions performed solely because the fetus had Down syndrome “or any other disability,” and required that aborted or miscarried fetuses be buried or cremated.
It was considered one of the strictest abortion laws in the country — and in July, a federal judge blocked key provisions of the law as unconstitutional before they could go into effect.
Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, called the law a “blatant, unwelcome intrusion into private, independent decision making” — and blasted Pence for supporting it.
“Today’s decision shows Gov. Mike Pence that he cannot force his religious ideology on Hoosiers,” Cockrum said then, in response to the federal judge’s injunction. “It is further compelling recognition by the courts that legislation interfering with women’s reproductive rights will not be tolerated.”
Vox’s Sarah Kliff wrote that Pence had been working to defund Planned Parenthood since 2007, when he was a congressman, even though federal funds are already barred from being used to cover abortions.
In 2011, Pence once again spearheaded an effort to defund Planned Parenthood, threatening to force a shutdown of the federal government over the issue. His reputation was so well known that, after the Trump-Pence ticket won the election, it inspired a campaign to donate to Planned Parenthood in Pence’s name. The organization saw a surge of nearly 80,000 donations in the week after the election, many “in honor of” Pence, the Atlantic reported.
“He has really sort of taken on as his personal crusade to defund and really just dismantle Planned Parenthood,” said Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women. “He claims that this is because he’s Catholic. My last name’s O’Neill and I call bulls— on that. … Where has he ever tried to criminalize, legislate or restrict vasectomy? You don’t see him trying to criminalize men’s legal health. Only women’s health.”
Women in the military
In 1999, when Pence hosted a talk radio show (and likened himself to a “Rush Limbaugh on decaf“), he wrote an op-ed for his show’s website that decried Disney’s “Mulan” as “liberal propaganda.”
In the piece, first rediscovered by BuzzFeed News last year, Pence argued that the plot of “Mulan” served as proof women should not serve in the military.
“Housing, in close quarters, young men and women (in some cases married to nonmilitary personnel) at the height of their physical and sexual potential is the height of stupidity. It is instructive that even in the Disney film, young Ms. Mulan falls in love with her superior officer!” a younger Pence wrote. “Moral of story: women in military, bad idea.”
Lapidus, the ACLU women’s rights project director, also criticized Pence’s record on policies regarding women in the workplace. As a congressman, Pence voted three times against legislation that would have mandated equal pay for women, including the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in 2007. (As governor, Pence said he supported equal pay but that it needed to be achieved through improving the economy.)
“All of his positions have been really his lack of respect for women as equals who have a right to privacy and to make decisions about their own lives,” Lapidus said. “Really on just about every front: economic justice, violence against women, reproductive rights, health care, LGBT equality …”
The Independent Women’s Forum, the group that is honoring Pence, defended its choice. Among its positions on prominent issues, the IWF advocates for “market-based alternatives” to government-run medicine and decries “the scare tactics geared toward women and moms that are used to encourage greater government regulation and intervention.”
Those positions are consistent with those of Pence, who has opposed the Affordable Care Act and, as governor, cut funding for Indiana’s public health departments.
“For 25 years the Independent Women’s Forum has responded to the progressive feminist narrative that women are a victim class in need of constant government protection,” Coley, the IWF spokeswoman, told The Post in a follow-up email. “But what’s often left out of the conversation is how government’s heavy hand can have a negative effect on women’s progress and success.”
Coley pointed to an IWF list of Pence’s achievements as governor of Indiana, which noted that Pence had maintained a balanced budget while in office, overseen a drop in unemployment and fought for the greatest tax cuts in the state’s history. In addition, the list highlights Pence’s role in having expanded Indiana’s school vouchers program and in reducing or eliminating 163 fees at the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
Those achievements, she said, were in line with IWF’s mission — as well as with its latest “Working for Women Report,” which lays out “a modern agenda for improving women’s lives.” The group has historically rejected claims that women make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, instead taking the position that women choose to work in lower-paying industries. (“Before You Blame the Wage Gap, Check Your Attitude,” reads one headline on the group’s website.)
Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway served on IWF’s board of directors but currently is listed as being on a leave of absence.
“They have a right, absolutely, to advocate whatever policies they want,” O’Neill, the president of the National Organization for Women, said of the IWF. “But when they promote men or give awards to men who promote policies that hurt women, they need to expect that people like me call them out on it.”