As Republicans continue to reflect on what went wrong on Nov. 6, they should think back on a scene in February, when U.S. House Republicans organized a grandstanding hearing on contraception coverage under Obamacare, in which they proclaimed it an affront to an employer’s religious freedom.
Democrats were allotted only one witness and chose Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke, who intended to speak out on the consequences of losing contraceptive coverage. But she was barred from testifying by Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican committee chairman, because she was “not qualified,” while a panel of men — some in religious collars — were.
That was the moment when America’s women were reminded of what is at stake in American elections in which one major political party enthusiastically embraces the agenda of the Religious Right.
We American women know how recent and tenuous our grip is on our reproductive rights. Anyone watching HBO’s Boardwalk Empire knows the travails of Margaret Thompson, the wife of wealthy Nucky, as she struggles against the Catholic Church, ignorance, fear and the law in the 1920s to bring sex education and contraception to women.
It wasn’t until 1965 that the U. S. Supreme Court affirmed the right of married people to possess contraception in this country, a right that wasn’t extended to unmarried people until 1972 — four years after the Beatles released the “White Album.”
So it’s not such a surprise that this year’s election, according to a Gallup survey, resulted in a 20-point gender gap, the largest in history, with President Obama winning women by 12 percentage points while Mitt Romney won men by 8 points. Obama’s win among unmarried women was a whopping 38 points. Call it the Republicans’ Carrie Bradshaw problem, or for a younger generation, their Selena Gomez problem. Either way, they won’t solve it until they stop using women’s bodily autonomy as a political pawn.
During the election post-mortem, Republicans have blamed their loss on decreased support among Hispanic voters and voters who live in an urban core. Romney even blamed his defeat on Obama’s “gifts” to the moochers. But they’re missing the pink elephant in the room. Women made up 53 percent of the electorate, and most of us won’t support a candidate who promises to transport the country back in time when it comes to our essential right to control our lives.
Romney lost women by swallowing whole the Religious Right agenda, including its attacks on overseas family planning services. He promised to reinstate the Mexico City policy and to defund the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Every Republican president since Reagan has adopted the Mexico City policy, which cuts off federal money for any international family planning organization that provides abortions or promotes abortion services. Without those U.S. funds, some family planning clinics in poor countries and remote areas have had to close. Both Clinton and Obama repealed the policy.
Romney’s stance on UNFPA mirrors that of Bush II, who withheld $235 million of congressionally allocated UNFPA funding over the course of his presidency on baseless grounds that the group supported coercive abortions in China. Since Obama came to office, about $40 million per year has been restored.
The backwardness of the Republican anti-family-planning agenda is hard to put into words, so let’s put it into numbers. According to the just-released UNFPA report, “By Choice, Not By Chance: Family Planning, Human Rights and Development,” an estimated 222 million women in the developing world lack access to reliable family planning. This alone leads to 63 million unintended pregnancies every year.
If all of the world’s family planning needs were met, there would be 26 million fewer abortions. And if women in developing countries could space their pregnancies three to five years apart, it could reduce infant deaths by 46 percent. Republican efforts to defund family planning groups belie any real concern for “life,” revealing instead the party’s antipathy toward contraception and women’s sexual freedom.
This 1920s-era thinking subordinated our mothers and grandmothers and continues to afflict women around the world. If Republicans want to win national elections, they need to realize that American women don’t intend to relinquish their hard-won reproductive rights, not ever.
(You can respond to Robyn’s column at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
(c) 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
Photo credit: AP/David Goldman