Does John McCain Want to Criminalize Contraception?

Amie Newman

Is contraception under attack? McCain's secret language, a new anti-choice campaign and a terrifying ballot initiative all point towards yes.

In a speech on Tuesday at Wake Forest University, McCain spoke not a word about Roe v. Wade, evading "the abortion issue" in a manner for which he has become known. But he did make a shrouded (and critical) reference to the 1965 Supreme Court decision "Griswold v. Connecticut" – the case that struck down a state ban on contraceptives for married couples.

According to Medical News Today, McCain, assuaging the conservative crowd in attendance said that he would appoint conservative justices to the bench and "criticized justices for using the words ‘penumbras’ and ‘emanations’." Those just happen to be two words used in the famous Griswold decision to reason that marriage fell within a zone of privacy (specifically that marriage fell under a "penumbra" of privacy and therefore married couples decision to use contraception was a private matter, not to be regulated by the government).

McCain’s coded language around reproductive rights needs to be called out. With the anti-choice advocacy community renewing their focus on contraception as murder and state ballot campaigns that seek to define a fertilized human egg as a person, birth control is under very real attack.

And if you think this is just about the "choices" women make, you’re wrong. This is about allowing physicians to practice free from strict government intervention (hint: not all women take birth control for contraceptive purposes); allowing families, couples and individuals the freedom to make private decisions without the government deciding for them; and allowing women’s reproductive cycles to occur without the government telling us whether what’s happening in our own bodies is legal or not (hint: miscarriage is not a "choice" but under Colorado’s proposed ballot initiative it might very well be considered a criminal "choice").

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Commentary Politics

Sorry, John McCain, But Anti-Choicers Are Judged on Actions, Not Words

Amanda Marcotte

John McCain joins the growing list of Republicans who claim that attacking reproductive rights while declining to talk about it in public will help them win elections. But that strategy has been in effect for years now, and it's not working anymore. 

This video of John McCain on Fox News Sunday morning is getting a lot of traction, because it seems like he’s telling Republicans to back off their opposition to abortion rights.

But as with Bobby Jindal before, if you actually listen to what he’s saying, he’s not actually telling Republicans to make substantial changes to either what policies they advocate for or even necessarily telling them to tone down their actual passion for stripping women of their reproductive rights. He’s just telling them to be quiet about it, and hope the voters don’t notice. After McCain stated that Republicans should leave the issue of abortion alone, this happened:

CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): When you say leave the issue alone, you would allow, you say, freedom of choice?

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McCAIN: I would allow people to have those opinions and respect those opinions and I’m proud of my pro-life position and record, but if someone disagrees with me, I respect your views.

In other words, McCain is saying that Republicans should generously allow pro-choicers to not only have opinions but to state them. The problem with this, I hope would be obvious, is that voters, especially single women, didn’t turn out against Republicans in the polls because we believed that Republicans were trying to strip away our First Amendment right to have and state opinions. (Though perhaps McCain has behind the scenes information that I’m not privy to on this front.) Not one of the thousand bills offered by Republicans addressing reproductive rights in the past two years, either in state houses or in Congress, was an attempt to ban people from stating out loud that they believe abortion is a right. All McCain is really advising here is for Republicans to continue pushing for restrictions on abortion and contraception access, but he’s asking them to be a bit quieter about it.

The problem with this advice, which is becoming routine on cable news talk shows, is that it’s simply advising Republicans to stay the course. Both in the 2010 and 2012 elections, Republicans running for office by and large tried to avoid talking about reproductive rights, and did so only when pressed. And even then they would try to pivot and change the subject to jobs or the economy half the time. Republicans have known for eons that this issue hurts them with independent voters.

Even George W. Bush was smart enough to know to talk elliptically about abortion when asked about it. In a 2004 debate with John Kerry, when asked about his strategy for appointing Supreme Court judges, Bush described the kind of judge he wouldn’t appoint by saying, “Another example would be the Dred Scott case, which is where judges, years ago, said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights.” It was a smart move, in that most viewers had no clue what he was talking about, but ardent anti-choicers knew he was telling them he’d appoint judges to overturn Roe v Wade, which anti-choicers erroneously compare to Dred Scott. (In fact, Roe is the opposite of Dred Scott, because it’s based on the premise that women own themselves.) It allowed him to downplay his opposition to abortion rights to independent voters, which helped him win the election.

In 2010, Republicans had massive victories in state houses and Congress because they claimed to have solutions to fix the economy. Republican campaign slogs were “Jobs jobs jobs” and “Where are the jobs?” Voters were clearly convinced that Republicans would be too busy rolling up their sleeves and getting on with creating jobs for Americans to worry about abortion. But what happened when Republicans got into office was an all-out assault on reproductive rights. The House passed one go-nowhere bill after another that attacked abortion rights and they twice tried to shut down the federal government in order to cut out contraception subsidies. And, of course, on the state level a record number of laws restricting abortion were passed.

In other words, Thomas Frank had it exactly backwards when in his famous quote describing the bait and switch Republicans play on their voters: “Vote to stop abortion; receive a rollback in capital gains taxes.” In fact, many people voted Republican in 2010 to get jobs and instead got relentless attacks on abortion and contraception.

Even if Republicans get even more aggressive in self-censorship when it comes to talking about reproductive rights in public—even if they start refusing to acknowledge questions about the issue, as Romney started doing on the campaign trail already—the fact that they are attacking reproductive rights will hurt them in the polls. They won’t be able to stop Democrats from pointing out their record on reproductive rights, nor will they be able to bully the press into not covering their assaults on reproductive rights. The only way they can actually keep voters from punishing them over this issue is to stop attacking reproductive rights.

So why don’t they? Well, they’ve created a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t situation. For years, conservatives have been whipping up the base on the abortion issue precisely because invigorated anti-choicers are such a political asset. Abortion gets them out of the house and knocking on doors like few other issues can. Some churches that used to be multi-faceted have become entirely about hating on reproductive rights. People who want to control women have unflagging energy when it comes to pursuing their obsession. (Witness Saudi Arabia’s embrace of electronic monitoring of women to see how bad misogyny can get when left unchecked.) To give up the war on women would be to see many of those anti-choice supporters lose interest and walk away. And there’s no guarantee that disgusted pro-choicers would switch to voting Republican even if they did give up the war on women, as pro-choice people tend to be generally more liberal anyway.

But they should at least stop pretending that they just came up with the idea to attack abortion rights while declining to talk about it in public. They’ve been trying that strategy for years, and no one is buying what they’re selling. 

Commentary Politics

McCain Says GOP Hostile to Women? What Tipped Him Off?

Robin Marty

If McCain wants to decry GOP efforts attacking women, maybe he should check his home state first.

Arizona Senator John McCain is going maverick again. The Republican party elder and former presidential candidate is warning his party that if they want to win in 2012, they need to lay off the war over contraception, and start focusing on jobs again.

Speaking on Meet The Press, McCain admonished the party, stating “the GOP should pivot from the contraception issue and ‘get back on to what the American people really care about: jobs and the economy.’”  He also worried that the contraception debate is leaving the impression that the “GOP is a party unfriendly to women.”

Really?  Unfriendly to women?  What tipped him off? The fight to deny women affordable access to contraception? The attempts to repeal the very health care reform legislation that would ensure women pay the same costs as men and eliminate “being female” as a “preexisting condition?” Was it the efforts underway to force women who want to terminate pregnancies to undergo medically unnecessary, expensive medical procedures–and pay for them? The fact that legislators want to force women to run like rats through a maze in meeting arbitrary waiting periods for an abortion they know they want? The bills not only legalizing but mandating that doctors lie to their female patients about the condition of a fetus? Or was it the bills to force women to to carry a child to term that has no hope of viability once its born because the medical issue wasn’t discovered–or perhaps just not revealed–until after 20 weeks?

Senator McCain may believe the GOP needs to be “less hostile” to women, but perhaps he should consider the adage that “charity begins at home,” and bring to bear his influence first on his home state. Arizona has now become the most “hostile” state in the nation when it comes to a woman’s reproductive rights, moving from supportive to completely against a woman’s right to choose in just one decade. According to Guttmacher’s Elizabeth Nash:

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“There are very few states that are so heavily entrenched in working to restrict abortion access than Arizona. In the past three years, the legislature has seemingly spent all their time on abortion restrictions.”

Dear Senator, if you want to know why the GOP appears to be anti-women, you should visit home more often.

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