By a margin reaching into double digits (15 points), American women say they will not vote for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. This gender gap appears to be widening. The same antipathy women have for Romney extends down the ticket to Republican Senate and House candidates as well. Two recent events lend credence to the fears women have if a regressive Republican gets into the White House or regressives can take the Senate and hold on to the House.
In Missouri, the regressive candidate running for the Senate against incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill, Todd Akin, was asked if he would allow a woman to get an abortion if she was raped. He pooh-poohed the question by announcing in "legitimate" rapes; a woman rarely gets pregnant so this is not a big issue requiring an exception. (A reproductive rights group released data showing over 64,000 rapes in 2007 resulting in over 3,500 pregnancies) Akin went on to offer further light on the issue by opining how we shouldn't punish the baby because his or her mother was raped.
The firestorm was swift and intense. Akin has been asked to step down and there are threats his money could be cut off. He says he is in the race to stay. Before the dust settled, Romney condemned the statement; the Republican Senate Committee denounced it along with House and Senate candidates. President Obama called the statement offensive. The candidate himself now says he "misspoke".
This is not a "gotcha" journalistic moment. This is not just another political gaffe, and this is not something regressive Republicans can distance themselves from. This man, and his regressive Tea Party supporters, believe this stuff and it's how they speak about it in private all the time. These are men, and some women, who actually make distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate rape. They are quite comfortable making value judgments about women's sexual habits and if a woman gets pregnant in an immoral manner, she is suspect...her judgment is suspect...her morality is suspect and her intelligence is suspect. (How else do you explain laws requiring a 24 hour waiting period, mandatory explanations about what an abortion can do psychologically to a woman, required video viewing of a fetus, descriptions of the pain a fetus might feel and other laws which suggest women neither think about nor care about this decision) Women cannot be trusted to make the right decisions regarding their health, their bodies and their reproductive lives so "we" have to pat their heads and either make the decision for them or take it away entirely. These Einsteins want to take away a woman's access to contraception, and prevent health insurance companies from being required to pay for standard contraceptive services. Women can't be trusted after all.
What was lost amidst all the noise over the idea of a "legitimate" rape was Akin's other comment. He said the rights of the fetus supersede the rights of the pregnant woman. Yes, she was raped, but she doesn't have the right to harm the fetus because of that incident. He totally dismisses as irrelevant any psychological or physical harm this pregnancy could cause the woman. This is a radical and dangerous tact, which regressives have been pushing through the use of personhood amendments and other restrictive laws. This is how they arrive at calling abortion murder and a capital crime. Once a woman is pregnant she loses all civil liberties in their mind.
The second event, which should not be overlooked, is Romney's nomination of Congressman Paul Ryan to be his running mate. Ryan is quite comfortable with all this regressive rhetoric. Ryan is opposed to all abortions, no exceptions. Ryan supports a personhood constitutional amendment, which would effectively outlaw abortion and prohibit most of the common forms of contraception. Ryan supports cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood and has led the fight to protect the Catholic Church from being required to provide contraceptive care in the health insurance it offers to employees of Catholic schools, hospitals and social service agencies. Ryan goes further and supports legislation, which allows any Catholic business owner to refuse to include contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance for religious reasons. If you add his budget proposal to cut Food Stamps, childcare credits, Medicaid, Head Start and end Medicare as we know it, (women being the majority of those who benefit from such programs) and Ryan and Romney are right to fear how women will vote. When you declare war on women...when you proclaim you are for smaller government (except where you want the government to control a woman's choice about her own health and body)...when you tell women you will gut a social safety net which they benefit from disproportionately...it would be wise to duck and cover when they are given a chance to vote on your candidacy.
I've never been a supporter of single issue voting. Life is more complex than one single issue. However, abortion and reproductive access are gateway issues. The position a politician holds on abortion and contraception is a direct predictor of how they will vote on the top 10 issues important to women. If they will vote to deny you contraceptive access...if they will vote to give the government the power to take control of your body away from you...imagine how they will vote on equal pay, domestic violence legislation, pre-natal care and a host of other issues. Actually, you don't have to imagine. You already know and at that point you might also come to understand what "they" mean by legitimate rape.