How women's issues divide 6th Congressional District candidates

There's a lot of talk about women this election cycle - women seeking office, women marching en masse, women planning to vote.

Candidates for U.S. Congress in the 6th District have different ideas about some of the top political issues affecting women, namely the future of the Violence Against Women Act and the country's regulations about abortion.

Both candidates - Republican incumbent Peter Roskam and Democratic challenger Sean Casten - say they support the reinstatement of the Violence Against Women Act, which has provided funding for investigation, prosecution and supportive recovery programs related to violent crimes against women since it was enacted in 1994.

The bill expires Sept. 30, at which point funding runs out unless action is taken. The Senate has passed a spending bill that funds defense, education, labor and health and also extends current funding for Violence Against Women Act programs until Dec. 7.

Anti-violence funds

Roskam said he thinks the temporary extension measure will make it to the House and would have his vote as part of the process of renewing a set of programs he calls "a protection that is necessary."

But Casten questions Roskam's true support for the Violence Against Women Act because he says Roskam hasn't taken visible actions to ensure its reinstatement. Casten questions why Roskam was not among 46 House Republican members who signed a letter earlier this month sent to Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to urge passage of an extension before Sept. 30.

"Sending letters is not the only way to demonstrate support. I'm a strong supporter of it," Roskam said about the act, which last year granted $12.1 million to 18 Illinois agencies that work to address domestic violence. "The ability to get adequate funding and shelter, particularly in emergency situations, is something that is strongly supported in the 6th District."

Roskam has drawn fire from opponents in the past for initially voting against the Violence Against Women Act when it last was renewed in 2013. He said that vote was part of the political "give and take" as different versions of the bill were bantered, not an indication he opposes funding for programs that prosecute domestic violence or help survivors recover.

"The version that has emerged now is a version that I have confidence in," he said.

Casten supports the new version of the Violence Against Women Act as well, especially because he said it extends protections to members of the LGBTQ community and gives law enforcement more authority to identify people who are convicted of domestic violence and take away their guns. Casten often has said the demographic group statistically more likely to commit a mass shooting is white males between the ages 14 and 45 who have a history of domestic violence.

"You should absolutely be doing background checks and taking guns away from people who are guilty of domestic violence," he said.

Casten said it's baffling why lawmakers want to wait until Dec. 7 - after the Nov. 6 election - to create a long-term fix for the Violence Against Women Act, when it could be a win with female voters.

"The amount of money those programs need is such a tiny amount of the federal budget," Casten said. "Let's make sure they get the resources they need."

Future of abortion

The abortion issue is where Roskam and Casten truly show their stripes.

Abortion is "absolutely none of any politician's business, period," Casten says.

He said abortion should remain a legal medical procedure to ensure safety for those who elect to endure it.

"The idea that there is any woman who is making the decision to get an abortion for reasons that are any other than deeply personal is offensive," he said. "The idea that somehow that access should be limited by a politician who thinks they have a greater claim on moral authority - that's rather hubristic."

Casten said he can empathize but disagrees with those who are opposed to abortion for moral reasons. But he sides with the fact it needs to remain available because he said there is no evidence that restricting access reduces instances of abortion.

The issue is getting much talk this fall as experts speculate whether the potential presence of Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the U.S. Supreme Court could change the high court's rulings on abortion and the precedent set by the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Both candidates declined to predict the future makeup of the Supreme Court or how its justices could continue to interpret abortion rulings.

But Roskam said he falls back on his values as a staunch opponent.

"I'm pro-life. My position is that life in the womb is worthy of protection," Roskam said, describing views he said differ in a "significant" way from Casten's. "The life-of-the-mother exception is in the traditional pro-life position. I've supported bills that have allowed for abortions in the case of rape and incest."

Helping women

Another difference among these candidates, who are battling to represent a wide swath of the Western suburbs from Naperville to Tower Lakes across parts of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties, is other ideas to support women in the district.

Casten says he primarily would focus on strengthening the Affordable Care Act, which he said is a major priority for women. He said extending access to preventive care is especially essential for women, and he also wants to explore the idea of providing paid parental leave to fathers as well as mothers, which could help decrease the economic incentives that often lead to women being responsible for child care.

Roskam said women are calling for civility in political discourse, which he works to provide through the ways he acts and speaks. He said he has worked and will continue to work on several "pocketbook" and health issues affecting women, such as preventing a gas tax increase, easing regulations on education savings, finding a cure to Alzheimer's disease, preventing human trafficking and addressing the opioid crisis.

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