Today in the War on Women…

Well, I have nothing exciting to tell you all about my own life today. (Yes, the so-called “Spring Break” has become a work-fest these past couple of days… Got to do something about that.) Instead, I would like to share some recent updates in the “War on Women.” You may have heard that republican candidate Rick Santorum has been winning some primaries lately, especially in Southern and conservative states. While Mitt Romney still has the lead in terms of delegates, and it would be difficult for Santorum to win the nomination outright, it seems the conservative message has him rattled.

I was annoyed and amazed to see that Romney is now talking about getting rid of Planned Parenthood in order to pander to the conservative vote, in spite of his support of the organization while he was in Massachusetts. The idea of “getting rid of” PP is a stupid one, for several reasons:

  • PP is not a public enterprise. As explained by the folks over at Jezebel, only about 1/3 of PP’s budget comes from public funding and none of that money goes to abortion services. Doesn’t the intervention of government in a private enterprise seem, I don’t know, contrary to the conservative ideology?
  • Given that 97% of PPs services are not abortion, even if conservatives managed to get rid of PP in order to eliminate abortions, who will pick up the slack on all the other services PP offers? The need for contraception, STD screenings, cancer screenings, health education, prenatal and postnatal care, rape crisis services, and so forth will not go away just because PP is eliminated. In his platform to eliminate PP, does Romney propose to address this? Given that he also has a platform to cut the deficit, I doubt he’ll be offering funding to any new services or alternative organizations. It seems like those who can’t afford will just have to go without if PP is gone.
  • Romney’s rhetoric is also not smart, because he still has to win a general election in a country where women–shock!–actually have the right to vote for or against him. Centrist women, even those who usually vote Republican, are disillusioned with their choices. The Obama team has taken notice, and is launching a major initiative to appeal to women voters.

The downside to this debate is obvious: It’s scary to a lot of us women to hear serious, national political discourse questioning not only whether our contraception should be covered, but whether we should have access to it at all. (And, note, it’s only access to women-consumed forms of contraception like the pill that are being debated. I haven’t heard anyone talking about getting rid of condoms and vasectomies) The debate also seems a stupid distraction at a time when the economy is still struggling and many Americans are finding it hard to get by. The upside, which is exciting to me as a feminist and a political scientist, is that this is a tremendous opportunity for women voters to make themselves heard. Organized and unorganized women-driven activism has made a difference this year on issues like the Komen funding debate and Rush Limbaugh’s ad hominem examples of uncivil discourse. Women have the power to swing this election either way. We are not a “segment” of voters–we are half the electorate. And while we’re at it, maybe we can get some more women into office. This 17% female representation in Congress doesn’t seem to be working for us.