The Women's Vote in 2012

5 years ago

In 2008, nearly 10 million more women than men voted in a presidential election decided by less than 9 million votes. If recent polls are a guide, the 2012 election will be a closer contest where every vote will count, especially those of women.

--Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University

Before we talk about the all-important women’s vote and how it’s going to play out in the election, let’s start with a brief history lesson:

1) Which Republicans helped create Title X, a federal program
that has provided millions of low-income women with family planning and reproductive health services?

A) George H.W. Bush
B) George W. Bush
C) Ronald Reagan
D) Richard Nixon
E) Gerald Ford
F) None of the above

If you picked George H. W. Bush and Richard Nixon, congratulations! The reason I resurrected this odd political fact is because I want to make a point. Believe it or not, there was a time not long ago when Republicans were big on women’s rights. Just as shocking, their positions also weren’t that notably different from Democrats. This was true not only in relation to the landmark Title X, which, according to the
Guttmacher Institute, helped prevent nearly a million unintended pregnancies in 2008 alone. It was also true in relation to wildly radical ideas like birth control, equal pay, and universal health care. As for abortion, many Republicans, my conservative father included, saw Roe v. Wade as a matter of privacy and were all for keeping the government out of their bedrooms. And no one marched around wearing Colonial hats shouting “keep your government hands off my Medicare!”

But that was then, and this is now.

(Credit Image: © Sun-Sentinel/

This political season women have been subject to some pretty rancid ideas from male GOP candidates about who we are, what we should be allowed to do, what we’re entitled to earn, and, bizarrely, even how our bodies work. I don’t know about you, but the talk about women has been so disorienting and devoid of reality that I barely recognize myself.

Reproductive Rights

We’ve heard the astonishing term “legitimate rape” and the claim that “the body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down” from Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin. The Tea Party has been pouring good money after bad into the race. But thankfully so far Akin, who has been arrested for harassing women at health clinics, is trailing Sen. Claire McCaskill.

We’ve seen the vehemently anti-choice Paul Ryan refer to rape as a method of conception to explain why he opposes abortion if a woman is raped, as well as push a bill on “forcible rape.” (As opposed to just your garden-variety rape, which presumably is not as bad. But hey, at least Ryan is consistent in his misogyny.) He co-sponsored a
Personhood Amendment, which would have give a fertilized egg the same legal rights as an adult woman, but also would have banned certain forms of birth control. Along with his other radical Tea Party colleagues, Romney’s running mate also voted against renewing the Violence Against Women Act because it would have added protections for gays, Native Americans, and other apparently undeserving groups.

Two weeks ago, Rep. Joe Walsh, the Tea Party candidate who’s running against Iraq veteran Tammy Duckworth, announced there was no reason a woman would ever need an abortion because “advances in science and technology” make it impossible for women to die in childbirth. This was news to me, since I almost did die in childbirth. I guess I must have imagined it! Since we’re highlighting sexism, Walsh also whined about Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in an rocket-propelled grenade attack, “My God, that’s all she talks about.”

As if that wasn’t enough, just last week we heard Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock say in a debate that “even when life begins in that horrible that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen.”

Even the normally unflappable Andrea Mitchell, who’s been covering politics for decades, seems unnerved by this male GOP obsession with women’s reproductive stuff. Last night I happened to catch her interview with none other than Gloria Steinem , the soft-spoken, gracious leader of the women’s movement. It was fascinating:

Mitchell: Here we are talking about rape in this fashion. Millions of dollars have been poured into those races. What have we learned?

Steinem: The Republican Party has been taken over by economic and religious extremists. It’s like “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Goldwater was pro-choice. This is what is confusing to older women who remember when it was centrist. And now it’s become extremist. It’s become like the American Taliban. That’s how we got Mitt Romney.”

Mitchell: The gender gap is only eight points. In the past it’s been double digits. Why are women not as alive with President Obama if what is at stake as you describe it?

Steinem: The biggest reason is that Romney is not telling the truth. He is scaring women with the idea of over $50,000 of national debt would be on the heads of hteir children and grandchildren. Of course he is not telling the truth about his reproductive rights policy. There's the most sinister thing, I think. He's referring to women's issues as social issues and men's issues as economic issues. But in fact equal pay is a huge economic stimulus that this country needs.

Which leads me to Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

The Economy and Equal Pay

As for women’s economic security, which includes things like being able to afford health care and not being gouged by insurance companies because you’re a woman, Paul Ryan doesn’t support equal pay for women. He voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. As Ledbetter recalled in her marvelous post on BlogHer this week, the bill provided redress for women to sue for pay discrimination.

Meanwhile, Romney, in his typical avoidance mode, has refused to say whether he’d support it. Just like the venture capitalist refused to be specific about how he would give everyone a tax break but still cut the deficit.

For months Romney has been hawking the idea that women don’t care about abortion or contraception and that we think of them as purely social issues. This is almost as stupid as arguing that women don’t care about sex. As bestselling author Meg Waite Clayton wrote on this week:

Women are at a substantial disadvantage in the workforce if they cannot control reproduction. Issues of access to birth control and abortion are not just moral issues, but economic ones. During a town hall in March, Mr. Romney, in a discussion about the Affordable Care Act told a voter to “vote for the other guy” if she wanted access to “free birth control.”

What Do Women Think About All This?

I hate to quote yet another poll, but according to an October Gallup poll, female voters in 12 swing states named abortion as “the single most important issue in this election. Not surprisingly, they’re going to vote for Obama. A new USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday reveals female voters in critical swing states favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in Tuesday’s presidential election by 16 points.

If Romney does happen to pull off a win, he’s going to be busy from Day One gutting women’s rights. He will overturn Roe v. Wade. He will repeal Obamacare and “get rid of” Planned Parenthood. He will decimate Medicaid, which predominantly helps women, children, the elderly and the poor. As Jonathan Cohn pointed out in The New Republic of the cuts:

Two hundred thousand and 10 million. That’s the number of kids who’d lose Head Start and the number of college students who’d see Pell Grants decline by $1000, according to official administration estimates, under the Ryan budget that Romney effectively endorsed—unless Romney decided to spare those programs, forcing deeper cuts to other programs.

The former Bain Capital executive who lives off his investments and pays fewer taxes than most of us would also give tax breaks to corporations and the rich.

But as Nick Kristof poignantly reminded me in his Sunday column , men care deeply about this election and its so-called “War on Women,” too.

This isn’t like a tampon commercial on television, leaving men awkwardly examining their fingernails. When it comes to women’s health, men as well as women need to pay attention. Just as civil rights wasn’t just a “black issue,” women’s rights and reproductive health shouldn’t be reduced to a “women’s issue.”

To me, actually, talk about a “war on women” in the United States seems a bit hyperbolic: in Congo or Darfur or Afghanistan, I’ve seen brutal wars on women, involving policies of rape or denial of girls’ education. But whatever we call it, something real is going on here at home that would mark a major setback for American women — and the men who love them.
So when you hear people scoff that there’s no real difference between Obama and Romney, don’t believe them.

And it’s not just women who should be offended at the prospect of a major step backward. It’s all of us.


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