A Politically Moderate Constitutional Law Professor Examines the Gender Gap in This Presidential Election
This week, Sen. Rick Santorum pulled out of the 2012 Presidential race. Over the last several months, he has done politically moderate women like myself (formerly a straight-ticket Republican, and now just plain disgusted) a huge favor. His campaign gave hope and comfort to misogynist (and primarily Republican) legislators everywhere, and empowered them to make some shocking declarations. Now, we know what they truly think.
Santorum’s determined religious, anti-woman agenda has reaped for Mitt Romney a sizable gender gap. In this column, I’ll discuss why women are unlikely to vote for Romney without some major adjustments to the Republican agenda. And Mr. Romney, it will be insufficient for you to have your wife simply speak at campaign events more often. A female visage will not fix the current policy gap.
The Issue of Contraception Access
Like many women, I believe that procreation and contraception are my business, not the government’s. Thus, it was disheartening when Romney was asked, during a debate, by George Stephanopoulos whether the Supreme Court’s decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, which held that Connecticut could not forbid married couples from obtaining contraception, is good law, and Romney didn’t have an answer. Everyone knows—because there is no cessation in the chatter—that a significant segment of Republicans opposes abortion. And this is an era when it is full-steam ahead for Republicans who treat Roe v. Wade as though it has already been overturned. Extremist measures like mandating unnecessary and expensive ultrasounds for pregnant women before they can obtain an abortion are the hallmark of Republican candidates across the country, as I discussed in a previous column.
But contraception? Really?
Santorum jumped in feet first, and made it clear that he was opposed to contraception. And subsequently, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, who apparently believed that Santorum was speaking for the people, loudly complained that health care reform would require their health care plans for employees in religiously-affiliated institutions to include coverage for contraception. To this day, the Bishops are still arguing that they have a “right” to “religious liberty” that guarantees them the right not to provide coverage of contraception for non-Catholic employees (not to mention the many Catholic employees who reject the Bishops’ take on this issue).
Here are the lyrics, in two-part harmony, of Santorum’s and the Bishops’ stance on contraception: First verse: Women should not be able to control their bodies or their reproduction. Second verse: So, women, forget your careers and the talents God gave you, because you are at the mercy of biology. With that tune running through women’s heads, it’s no wonder that they are unenthusiastic about the Republicans.
I thought we had gone far past that view, even in the Republican Party, in the 1970s! Now we know the truth.
Republicans should have seen that they were headed for trouble in November, when they saw what Santorum and the Bishops had unleashed with their anti-contraception rhetoric. And the lesson should have truly sunk in after the most popular and successful of all media conservative talkers, Rush Limbaugh, called a female law student a whore, a slut, and a prostitute for standing up for contraception.
(Limbaugh was just dropped by another major radio station, Philadelphia CBS’s WPHT, as a result.) Add another verse to the song: If you use contraception, you are a slut and a whore! Not a great way to get women to vote.
If Mitt Romney is not nervous about the documented gender gap in political polls, he needs to think like the businessman he is, and look at what has happened to Limbaugh.
The Issue of Equal Pay for Women
Recently, in Wisconsin, Republican Governor Scott Walker signed into law greater restrictions on abortion, an abstinence-only sex education requirement (only girls pay for the ignorance these programs foster), and a repeal of the state’s Equal Pay Act. Republican legislator Glenn Grothmann proudly stood behind the repeal of the Equal Pay Act because women don’t need the money as much as a man does, he said. They make choices that are driven by having children, so they don’t deserve equal pay. These men are living in a unitary universe where women are defined by biology and their worth is measured by motherhood, not intrinsic value.
The Issue of Violence Against Women and Children
With the enthusiasm for Santorum, and the consequent opening of the dams of misogyny, Republicans have set themselves out as the leaders in keeping women in their “place.” Consistent with this, one Republican lawmaker after another has said something just plain stupid about violence against women. Kansas Rep. Pete DeGraaf said that women should plan ahead for paying for abortions resulting from rape, because after all, he has a “spare tire.”
Wisconsin Republican Rep. Don Pridemore said that while a woman is being beaten by her husband, she should think loving things about him.
Georgia Rep. Bobby Franklin proposed legislation that would forbid the justice system from referring to a rape victim as a “victim.” Instead, during the process, the victim would be called only the “accuser.”
Republicans have also opened themselves up to the charge that they are far more concerned about unborn babies than real live children, with their positions on issues affecting child sex abuse victims. This is the Party so far blocking statute-of-limitations reform for child sex abuse victims in various states, because its members are carrying water for the Bishops. I have to agree with the author who said last fall that there is no good reason for politicians to defer to the Bishops on child sex abuse.
That is just plain common sense.
Republicans are choosing perpetrators and callously silent institutions over the protection of children on this issue. It is the epitome of anti-family values. Women—and many men as well—truly and deeply care about children and about reducing child sex abuse. The Republicans have chosen the wrong side on this issue, and will ultimately pay for it.
The Package That One Must Accept in Order to Vote Republican This Year
In sum, here is the fabulous package that Republicans are offering women voters: (1) contraception is wrong and if you use it, you’re a whore; (2) abortion under any circumstances should be prevented, regardless of whether you were raped, and regardless of whether your life or health is in danger, and you’d just better learn to live with sexual violence; and (3) child sex abuse victims don’t matter. Speaking as a woman, a mother, and a moderate, that package is not going to get me to pull the Republican lever!
Truth be told, had Santorum not jumped into the presidential race, all of these somewhat hidden agendas likely would not have been revealed, and we might now just be talking about our disastrous debt situation and the economy. It used to be that the Republicans were the go-to folks on those issues. But at least while Santorum was on the national stage, their righteous focus was on their social religious agenda. It is a sad fact that the Bush Administration undermined the Republican reputation for fealty to economic issues when it engaged in runaway spending, a good portion of which was to appease religious groups demanding federal funding.
Where does that leave female moderates like myself who are concerned about what the future will be like for our children, both socially and economically?