There was brief unity in condemning ludicrous notions of “legitimate rape” and ability of the female body “to shut that whole thing down” touted by Congressman Todd Akin (R-Missouri) Aug. 19.
Every politician who could capture a microphone rushed to blast the heretofore obscure Missouri congressman running against Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri).
President Barack Obama seized the moment, branding the Akin remarks “offensive” and maintaining “rape is rape.” Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sprang to denounce the comments as “insulting, inexcusable and, frankly, wrong.” Even GOP running mate Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who had previously co-sponsored a bill with Akin singling out “forcible rape,” was quick to echo the president: “Rape is rape, period. End of story.” Republicans around the country called upon Akin to withdraw from the Senate race.
But this sideshow may be stealing the limelight from the main event. Crucial issues affecting women are at stake in the 2012 elections.
Regarding choice, apart from the Akin episode, the major political parties remain starkly divided. According to the 2008 Democratic Party platform: “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.” The Democratic Platform in 2012 will surely be to similar effect.
Meanwhile, the week after all the anti-Akin fervor, the GOP Convention in Tampa approved a platform containing a rigid abortion ban: “We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.” This plank appears to preclude exceptions for cases of rape and incest or even threat to the life of the mother. Moreover, the Republican platform goes so far as to seek to prohibit “morning after” pills: “We oppose the FDA approval of Mifeprex, formerly known as RU-486, and similar drugs that terminate innocent human life after conception.”
Then, too, there are the GOP vows, led by Romney, to deny contraceptive help and defund Planned Parenthood. But “women’s issues” extend well beyond the abortion debate.
According to United States Bureau of the Census data, female workers earn about 77 cents for every $1 earned by males. Nevertheless, the Republican minority in the Senate last June again blocked action on the Paycheck Fairness Act; the vote of 52 to 47 was strictly along party lines. For another example, while 15 Senate Republicans joined the Democrats and Independents in voting for reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, House Republicans stalled all action before the August recess by insisting on limiting coverage for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender), immigrant, American Indian and student victims contained in the Senate measure.
Issues of special interest to women are also much broader than those generally identified by gender. According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Aging-Related Statistics, in 2010 there were 23 million U.S. females age 65 and older and only 17.5 million males (roughly 1.3 to 1). Consequently, decisions relating to Medicare and Social Security disproportionately impact women. The Ryan proposal to convert Medicare to a private voucher system, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would account for only about 40% of current coverage, would be particularly harsh on women. The same is true for cuts to Social Security or privatization proposals that could undermine the security of the system. Likewise, for a variety of socio-economic reasons, cutbacks to Medicaid, “Obamacare” and a number of other social programs have greater potential consequences for women.
The point here is NOT to suggest women should be single-issue voters or align politically by gender. The economy, jobs, wars and other concerns are as crucial to women as men. Nor even is it to suggest that the issues highlighted do not have countervailing considerations.
The point is to urge women to fight for their rights and interests.
Jan Schneider holds a law degree and a doctorate in political science. She practices law and lives on Bird Key.