The Party’s Over

Emily Douglas

Republican pro-choice groups seize the moment to refocus their Party's agenda away from social conservatism and toward what they believe are the core principles of Republican government.

"I love this fight!" said MSNBC host Chris Matthews on Hardball on January 10, after hosting a segment in which Club for Growth president Matthew Toomey and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins discussed, unenthusiastically at best, the slate of Republican presidential candidates. Though neither guest issued a frank endorsement, at the conclusion of the show – after banter about why former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee were both inappropriate candidates for the Republican Party, for, of course, opposite reasons, Matthews wrapped it up: "I love the fact that you have X'd out Rudy and X'd out Huckabee, leaving us with McCain and Romney." Toomey quickly corrected: "I don't X out Giuliani." To that, Perkins immediately retorted, "Then I take back Huckabee."

The strain between the primary commitment to fiscal conservatism and limited government in the Republican Party and the political expediency of a socially conservative voting bloc willing to show up on election day may not be a new one, but the fissures are showing publicly in this presidential election as never before. When the identical Perkins-Toomey match-up occurred on Hardball in June 2006, Tony Perkins said, "Most of the social conservatives are both fiscally and socially conservative. So, they are just as concerned about the fiscal policies as well." It was easy to say so back then. Now that Republican candidates present clear primary affiliations – social conservatism (Huckabee), or strong defense and low taxes (Giuliani), for instance – merely waving encouragingly at the legs of the Republican Party platform for which candidates feel little ardor themselves will not be enough. From the early embrace of Huckabee to the resurgence of John McCain, this year's campaign offers a menu of ever-resorting options embodying the range of Republican political commitments, and it's unclear which will prevail. Writing in the New York Times about the lack of a clear "G.O.P. anchor," Adam Nagourney said, "This is a party that is adrift, deeply divided and unsure of how to counter an energized Democratic Party."

For Kellie Ferguson, president of the Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), a group that organizes pro-choice Republicans to advocate for a wide spectrum of reproductive health issues, this is progress. "You're not automatically going to win the Republican nomination by saying you're the pro-life candidate anymore," says Ferguson. "I think the old strategy of, okay, it doesn't really matter where I personally stand but I say I'm pro-life and will do everything I can to overturn [Roe] and I automatically get that twenty percent of the party – that's not happening."

What Ferguson disparages most is the claiming and renouncing of the pro-life mantle simply for political gain. In that same article on the missing G.O.P. anchor, Nagourney claimed that it was former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney who has tried most "assiduously… to stitch the ideological fabric of his party back together. He shifted positions on some social issues – including abortion rights, stem cell research and gay rights – with an eye to winning the allegiance of social conservatives." And this is what infuriates the Republican Majority for Choice. Rather than seeing Romney's flip-flopping as an indication of some sympathy, however disposable, to a woman's right to choose, RMC sees Romney as the worst offender of the bunch on choice issues.

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The Associated Press reports that in 2002, when Romney was running for governor of Massachusetts, he filled out a survey issued by the Republican Majority for Choice, in which he checked off "yes" to the question "Do you support a woman's constitutional right to a safe and legal abortion without government interference, as defined by Roe v. Wade?", and also indicated his support for Medicaid funding for abortions for poor women and the removal of "anti-choice language form the National Republican platform." But given the inconsistent track record Romney has racked up since then, RMC feels, as Jennifer Stockman, the group's national co-chair, puts it, "betrayed."

So Republican Majority for Choice spent $100,000 to air a well-publicized 30-second television spot attacking Romney's record on choice in Iowa and New Hampshire and ran full-page ads opposing Romney in the Des Moines Register, the Concord Monitor, and the New Hampshire Union-Leader. Describing the motivation for the ads, Ferguson says, "We felt an obligation to let voting population know that you can't use important issues like this as a political football and get away with it anymore. His own strategy has proven to be his Achilles heel. The one thing that the polls show again and again is that people don't trust him. And I think our ad was a catalyst for that." In response to the ad, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden claimed that the group is "trying to destroy the Republican Party's position on the issue of protecting life."

The danger, of course, for RMC is that the ad cuts two ways: while it may turn committed pro-choice Republican voters off Romney, it may inflame committed anti-choice voters for the same reason. When the Washington Post's Ruth Marcus went to Iowa in December, she reported: "Huckabee is getting help delivering that message from some surprising bedfellows: A new ad by the Republican Majority for Choice details Romney's shifting positions on abortion – and urges him to flip back, but it may have the effect of driving more voters to the staunchly anti-abortion Huckabee." But when I asked Ferguson whether the ad may have motivated anti-choice voters to see Romney as insufficiently anti-choice and thus vote for a more consistently anti-choice candidate, she responded that it's the lack of trustworthiness, not necessarily, the record, that's an anti-choice candidate's biggest problem.

"The main purpose of the ad was to bring to light the truth and let people know [Romney's record]," Ferguson said. "We can respect that there are candidates who have a differing position on this issue than we do. What we ask for is an open dialogue and a seat at the table to discuss ways with candidates who disagree with us, on Roe v. Wade for instance, to discuss things we do agree on." When candidates stop using choice ideologically and demonstrate an actual interest in sexual and reproductive health issues, Ferguson believes there is fertile ground for collaboration. "For genuine candidates and genuine elected officials who disagree with us on that, there are so many issue that we do agree on within the reproductive rights world – we should be focusing on sex education, we should be focusing on abstinence plus, we should be focusing on emergency contraception for rape victims – and so we feel like someone who has a heartfelt position and isn't willing to throw this issue around back and forth for political gain, we at least would have an open dialogue," she says.

In a recent interview with Amanda Marcotte on RealityCast, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, sounded a similar theme. "I think that in this country right now, people are really tired of the divisiveness of this debate," she said. "We have to turn down the volume and find common ground on issues like preventing unintended pregnancy. So when we talk about access to birth control, the price of birth control on campuses, emergency contraception over the counter, young people being taught appropriate sex ed – all of that is being pro-choice and it's not just about being supporters of access to abortion for women in this country."

In order to work with candidates who can be allies on certain reproductive health issues, Ferguson is intent on defining and marginalizing what she calls the "super-moralist" segment of the Republican Party, and she describes a wide-scale "waking up" happening on the part of Republicans who do not want to see abortion criminalized in America.

"Frankly I think that we got this way because base got so strong because it was an easy voting bloc to go after," Ferguson says. In polls done by RMC in 1997, only 19-23% of Republicans surveyed were categorized as moralists; by 2007, that had increased to a solid 24%. In 2007, while 72% of those identified as moralists disagreed with the statement "The Republican Party has spent too much time focusing on moral issues such as abortion and gay marriage and should instead be focusing on economic issues such as taxes and government spending," 53% of Republican surveyed overall agreed. Overall, 60% of Republicans surveyed would be likely to vote for a candidate with whom he or she disagreed on abortion, so long as the candidate well-represented the voter's other views. Of all the voter categories in the survey, only moralists had a majority believing that abortion should be illegal under any circumstances. So now the party's over. "I think moderate Republicans are realizing that the faction of the party that is anti-choice – we've said, well, they're going to help us get our candidates elected, but they're not going to control our issues and the platform, we see that they've increasingly gained control of the agenda, and the agenda's so far gone from what it should be and the core Republican values," she concludes.

By Ferguson's reckoning, polls that show that a majority of Republicans nationwide are pro-life do not accurately reflect the political values and beliefs of those surveyed: someone who is personally pro-life can still believe that the government should not be involved in making that decision for other women. Her logic may explain why, in a poll conducted over the summer to assess attitudes within the Republican Party on a range of social and political issues, 72% of Republicans surveyed believed that abortion should be a decision made by "a woman, her family, and her doctor."

For pro-choice Republicans, the costs to speaking out against the party platform can be steep. Republican Majority for Choice has attracted the poison pen of conservative pundit Ann Coulter, who derided the group as "pro-abortion" and "evil," presumably because they ran negative ads against Romney, Coulter's chosen candidate.

The WISH List, another pro-choice Republican organization, did not respond to repeated requests for comment. On its website, the WISH List credits itself with quadrupling the number of pro-choice Republican women in the Senate and increasing by half the number of pro-choice Republican women in the House. But if pro-choice Republicans really want to see a sea change in the focus of their party, maybe it's time for them to dump their glasses of bubbly on the lawn and stage a dramatic exit — not necessarily leaving the Party, but the party. After all, Republican voters who oppose legal abortion, as well as the methods proven to reduce the abortion rate, certainly aren't above creating a scene.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: Republicans Can’t Help But Play Politics With the Judiciary

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Republicans have a good grip on the courts and are fighting hard to keep it that way.

Welcome to Gavel Drop, our roundup of legal news, headlines, and head-shaking moments in the courts.

Linda Greenhouse has another don’t-miss column in the New York Times on how the GOP outsourced the judicial nomination process to the National Rifle Association.

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick has this smart piece on how we know the U.S. Supreme Court is the biggest election issue this year: The Republicans refuse to talk about it.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging doctors to fill in the blanks left by “abstinence-centric” sex education and talk to their young patients about issues including sexual consent and gender identity.

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Good news from Alaska, where the state’s supreme court struck down its parental notification law.

Bad news from Virginia, though, where the supreme court struck down Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s executive order restoring voting rights to more than 200,000 felons.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) will leave behind one of the most politicized state supreme courts in modern history.

Turns out all those health gadgets and apps leave their users vulnerable to inadvertently disclosing private health data.

Julie Rovner breaks down the strategies anti-choice advocates are considering after their Supreme Court loss in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt.   

Finally, Becca Andrews at Mother Jones writes that Texas intends to keep passing abortion restrictions based on junk science, despite its loss in Whole Woman’s Health.

Culture & Conversation Human Rights

Let’s Stop Conflating Self-Care and Actual Care

Katie Klabusich

It's time for a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities.

As a chronically ill, chronically poor person, I have feelings about when, why, and how the phrase “self-care” is invoked. When International Self-Care Day came to my attention, I realized that while I laud the effort to prevent some of the 16 million people the World Health Organization reports die prematurely every year from noncommunicable diseases, the American notion of self-care—ironically—needs some work.

I propose a shift in the use of “self-care” that creates space for actual care apart from the extra kindnesses and important, small indulgences that may be part of our self-care rituals, depending on our ability to access such activities. How we think about what constitutes vital versus optional care affects whether/when we do those things we should for our health and well-being. Some of what we have come to designate as self-care—getting sufficient sleep, treating chronic illness, allowing ourselves needed sick days—shouldn’t be seen as optional; our culture should prioritize these things rather than praising us when we scrape by without them.

International Self-Care Day began in China, and it has spread over the past few years to include other countries and an effort seeking official recognition at the United Nations of July 24 (get it? 7/24: 24 hours a day, 7 days a week) as an important advocacy day. The online academic journal SelfCare calls its namesake “a very broad concept” that by definition varies from person to person.

“Self-care means different things to different people: to the person with a headache it might mean a buying a tablet, but to the person with a chronic illness it can mean every element of self-management that takes place outside the doctor’s office,” according to SelfCare. “[I]n the broadest sense of the term, self-care is a philosophy that transcends national boundaries and the healthcare systems which they contain.”

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In short, self-care was never intended to be the health version of duct tape—a way to patch ourselves up when we’re in pieces from the outrageous demands of our work-centric society. It’s supposed to be part of our preventive care plan alongside working out, eating right, getting enough sleep, and/or other activities that are important for our personalized needs.

The notion of self-care has gotten a recent visibility boost as those of us who work in human rights and/or are activists encourage each other publicly to recharge. Most of the people I know who remind themselves and those in our movements to take time off do so to combat the productivity anxiety embedded in our work. We’re underpaid and overworked, but still feel guilty taking a break or, worse, spending money on ourselves when it could go to something movement- or bill-related.

The guilt is intensified by our capitalist system having infected the self-care philosophy, much as it seems to have infected everything else. Our bootstrap, do-it-yourself culture demands we work to the point of exhaustion—some of us because it’s the only way to almost make ends meet and others because putting work/career first is expected and applauded. Our previous president called it “uniquely American” that someone at his Omaha, Nebraska, event promoting “reform” of (aka cuts to) Social Security worked three jobs.

“Uniquely American, isn’t it?” he said. “I mean, that is fantastic that you’re doing that. (Applause.) Get any sleep? (Laughter.)”

The audience was applauding working hours that are disastrous for health and well-being, laughing at sleep as though our bodies don’t require it to function properly. Bush actually nailed it: Throughout our country, we hold Who Worked the Most Hours This Week competitions and attempt to one-up the people at the coffee shop, bar, gym, or book club with what we accomplished. We have reached a point where we consider getting more than five or six hours of sleep a night to be “self-care” even though it should simply be part of regular care.

Most of us know intuitively that, in general, we don’t take good enough care of ourselves on a day-to-day basis. This isn’t something that just happened; it’s a function of our work culture. Don’t let the statistic that we work on average 34.4 hours per week fool you—that includes people working part time by choice or necessity, which distorts the reality for those of us who work full time. (Full time is defined by the Internal Revenue Service as 30 or more hours per week.) Gallup’s annual Work and Education Survey conducted in 2014 found that 39 percent of us work 50 or more hours per week. Only 8 percent of us on average work less than 40 hours per week. Millennials are projected to enjoy a lifetime of multiple jobs or a full-time job with one or more side hustles via the “gig economy.”

Despite worker productivity skyrocketing during the past 40 years, we don’t work fewer hours or make more money once cost of living is factored in. As Gillian White outlined at the Atlantic last year, despite politicians and “job creators” blaming financial crises for wage stagnation, it’s more about priorities:

Though productivity (defined as the output of goods and services per hours worked) grew by about 74 percent between 1973 and 2013, compensation for workers grew at a much slower rate of only 9 percent during the same time period, according to data from the Economic Policy Institute.

It’s no wonder we don’t sleep. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been sounding the alarm for some time. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommend people between 18 and 60 years old get seven or more hours sleep each night “to promote optimal health and well-being.” The CDC website has an entire section under the heading “Insufficient Sleep Is a Public Health Problem,” outlining statistics and negative outcomes from our inability to find time to tend to this most basic need.

We also don’t get to the doctor when we should for preventive care. Roughly half of us, according to the CDC, never visit a primary care or family physician for an annual check-up. We go in when we are sick, but not to have screenings and discuss a basic wellness plan. And rarely do those of us who do go tell our doctors about all of our symptoms.

I recently had my first really wonderful check-up with a new primary care physician who made a point of asking about all the “little things” leading her to encourage me to consider further diagnosis for fibromyalgia. I started crying in her office, relieved that someone had finally listened and at the idea that my headaches, difficulty sleeping, recovering from illness, exhaustion, and pain might have an actual source.

Considering our deeply-ingrained priority problems, it’s no wonder that when I post on social media that I’ve taken a sick day—a concept I’ve struggled with after 20 years of working multiple jobs, often more than 80 hours a week trying to make ends meet—people applaud me for “doing self-care.” Calling my sick day “self-care” tells me that the commenter sees my post-traumatic stress disorder or depression as something I could work through if I so chose, amplifying the stigma I’m pushing back on by owning that a mental illness is an appropriate reason to take off work. And it’s not the commenter’s fault; the notion that working constantly is a virtue is so pervasive, it affects all of us.

Things in addition to sick days and sleep that I’ve had to learn are not engaging in self-care: going to the doctor, eating, taking my meds, going to therapy, turning off my computer after a 12-hour day, drinking enough water, writing, and traveling for work. Because it’s so important, I’m going to say it separately: Preventive health care—Pap smears, check-ups, cancer screenings, follow-ups—is not self-care. We do extras and nice things for ourselves to prevent burnout, not as bandaids to put ourselves back together when we break down. You can’t bandaid over skipping doctors appointments, not sleeping, and working your body until it’s a breath away from collapsing. If you’re already at that point, you need straight-up care.

Plenty of activities are self-care! My absolutely not comprehensive personal list includes: brunch with friends, adult coloring (especially the swear word books and glitter pens), soy wax with essential oils, painting my toenails, reading a book that’s not for review, a glass of wine with dinner, ice cream, spending time outside, last-minute dinner with my boyfriend, the puzzle app on my iPad, Netflix, participating in Caturday, and alone time.

My someday self-care wish list includes things like vacation, concerts, the theater, regular massages, visiting my nieces, decent wine, the occasional dinner out, and so very, very many books. A lot of what constitutes self-care is rather expensive (think weekly pedicures, spa days, and hobbies with gear and/or outfit requirements)—which leads to the privilege of getting to call any part of one’s routine self-care in the first place.

It would serve us well to consciously add an intersectional view to our enthusiasm for self-care when encouraging others to engage in activities that may be out of reach financially, may disregard disability, or may not be right for them for a variety of other reasons, including compounded oppression and violence, which affects women of color differently.

Over the past year I’ve noticed a spike in articles on how much of the emotional labor burden women carry—at the Toast, the Atlantic, Slate, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post. This category of labor disproportionately affects women of color. As Minaa B described at the Huffington Post last month:

I hear the term self-care a lot and often it is defined as practicing yoga, journaling, speaking positive affirmations and meditation. I agree that those are successful and inspiring forms of self-care, but what we often don’t hear people talking about is self-care at the intersection of race and trauma, social justice and most importantly, the unawareness of repressed emotional issues that make us victims of our past.

The often-quoted Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

While her words ring true for me, they are certainly more weighted and applicable for those who don’t share my white and cisgender privilege. As covered at Ravishly, the Feminist Wire, Blavity, the Root, and the Crunk Feminist Collective recently, self-care for Black women will always have different expressions and roots than for white women.

But as we continue to talk about self-care, we need to be clear about the difference between self-care and actual care and work to bring the necessities of life within reach for everyone. Actual care should not have to be optional. It should be a priority in our culture so that it can be a priority in all our lives.