Republicans unite women--against their party
Every day, as I approach the subway station near my home, they’re out there — two or three Planned Parenthood canvassers, asking people to donate money.
It’s not an unusual scene outside D.C.’s Metro stations. There are often representatives from a wide array of groups, from Greenpeace to churches and soup kitchens, seeking donations from those riding the subway.
But here’s what is unusual: Commuters have been milling about the Planned Parenthood canvassers, eager to donate. Well-heeled women on the way to the office, new immigrants pushing their babies in strollers, young college girls on their way to school, older women with the odd grandkid in tow. And not just women: some men, too, young and old, equally diverse.
All of them are eager to donate some money to a group that provides an array of health-care services to low-income women, from PAP smears to birth control and breast cancer screening.
"Does that Rick Santorum guy really think they should ban birth control?" I heard one college-age girl incredulously ask one of the Planned Parenthood canvassers the other day. An animated discussion broke out among the women gathered, the primary theme of the conversation being: "It’s 2012, and men are still telling us what to do with our bodies?"
Indeed, February 2012 may go down in history as the month when the Republican party and its supporters unwittingly roused the women of America, uniting them in outrage over issues like birth control, involuntary vaginal probing and pre-natal screening.
Who’s been at the forefront of the debate?
Rick Santorum, the sudden front-runner in the Republican presidential race who believes birth control poses a threat to America, that sex is only meant for procreation purposes, that federal health-care legislation must not pay for pre-natal screening since it only leads to an increase in abortions, and of course, that life begins at conception, and not even in cases of rape or incest should women be permitted to terminate pregnancies.
He’s also suggested radical feminists have brainwashed women into thinking they’re happier working, suggesting that, in fact, women should stay home with their children.
The Republican party was doing well on the abortion issue. An increasing number of Americans regard themselves as pro-life, although the country remains deeply divided on the issue. But contraception? The vast majority of American women, including 98 per cent of Catholics, have used it and support the Obama administration’s contraception policies.
Indeed, access to birth control hasn’t been an issue in the United States since the mid-1960s.
Santorum, however, says that states ought to have the right to outlaw the sale of contraception. It’s hard to imagine what state would go there. But it doesn’t matter — he’s touched off a firestorm in the aftermath of a series of startling developments on women’s issues in the U.S.
First the Susan G. Komen Foundation, a breast cancer group, yanked funding to Planned Parenthood at the urging of pro-life forces even though just three per cent of the organization’s services are related to abortion. A public outcry forced Komen to backtrack.
Then the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reacted with fury to President Barack Obama’s contraception policies. And so House Republicans invited a panel of five men — and not a single woman — to debate the issue. The optics were horrible, and simply served to anger American women even further.
And then the state of Virginia voted in favour of a new law that requires any woman seeking an abortion to be subjected to a "transvaginal ultrasound." Hundreds of women gathered outside the Virginia legislature earlier this week in protest.
It’s hard to imagine a dumber political strategy in a presidential election year than to undermine the hard-won rights near and dear to women.
Women outnumbered men by eight million voters in the last election, representing 54 per cent of the electorate. There are predictions of a similar turnout by women in November — in fact, some pollsters have suggested that number could increase given the events of the past few weeks.
Conservatives can argue all they like that the issues at hand are not about birth control or women’s health, but about protecting the U.S. Constitution and freedom of religion. That may technically be true — but it doesn’t matter. The PR battle was lost when Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic, started talking about the evils of birth control while in the same breath railing against abortion and working mothers. It all suggests a "barefoot and pregnant" throwback to another era that most women are happy no longer exists.
Indeed, to women from very diverse walks of life, the Republican party currently looks like it wants to return to the Dark Ages. There’s little doubt women will punish them for it come election day.
Lee-Anne Goodman is the White House correspondent for The Canadian Press.