Hardball Flirts With Understanding Women Voters

Scott Swenson

Hardball's Chris Matthews took heat from Clinton supporters during the primary and appears to be trying to learn more about the complexity of women voters in recent shows. Give him credit for trying, even though he still succombs to the "it's all about abortion" mentality.

Hardball’s Chris Matthews took heat from supporters of Sen. Hillary Clinton during the primary and has spent significant time since Sen. Barack Obama secured the nomination discussing the pain her supporters feel. The critique was justified, and perhaps some of his coverage now is an attempt to understand the complexity of women voters, like so many things in mainstream media, too often over-simplified.

Give Matthews credit for trying, and during this election, highly charged with gender, race and age issues, often being wiling to say "I’m uncomfortable discussing issues this way as a white guy." His acknowledged challenge, and his personality, may allow other white guys to learn with him as the body politic wrestles with what equality means. Matthews has had some hits and misses, especially on the issue of abortion, as he uses his show to model discussions Americans are having about politics.

Perhaps the most important thing to realize about women voters is that it isn’t just about abortion, no matter which side of the issue you’re on. In fact, abortion, as the mainstream media sees it, isn’t just about abortion either. For traditional politicos and mainstream media (as well as some leading voices in the progressive blogosphere, ahem), abortion has become shorthand for a range of reproductive health issues that women care deeply about.

From pre- and post-natal care and maternal health to comprehensive sexuality education that gives girls the power to negotiate relationships and helps boys understand responsibility; from access to birth control and the far-right’s efforts to make contraception illegal, to preventing sexually transmitted infections, these nuances are lost in the much easier to cover red hot politics that have defined the generation since Roe.

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Women’s bodies, because of their amazing life-generating capability, should not be parsed politically as they have been for far too long. These issues are about women’s reproductive health care, insuring women are healthy, have the ability to determine whether, when and how many children to have, and that they have access to a full range of medically safe options to prevent unintended pregnancies.

If Matthews and other mainstream media want to add something productive to the debate, they should move off the 1970’s polarization established by the far-right and look at these issues for what they are — women’s health care.

It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that the rise of the far-right, their skillful use of misinformation and distortion playing on people’s discomfort with the issue of abortion, and a vitriolic politics that has divided the nation, also defines much of the 35 years since Roe.

It isn’t liberals that have held the nation hostage on this issue, or that have failed to promote education and prevention measures, it is the prohibitionists on the far-right and it is fair for journalists to cover that accurately because it is the truth. Matthews is starting down an interesting path with his discussions about women voters, and if he chooses to embrace what he is learning, will be the better for it. His frank discussions on race and increasingly diverse panelists are good guides.

Matthews’ guests in one discussion; former Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood, and Ellen Moran of Emily’s List, did a great job covering a range of issues that included the threat to Roe if more activist conservative justices like Scalia, Alito and Roberts are appointed to the Supreme Court. Townsend reminded viewers of women who died in the pre-Roe era, as they do in all countries that prohibit abortion. Outlawing aboriton does nothing to stop it, only making it unsafe. But Matthews appeared to get squeamish while acknowledging he’d heard these stories, and moved the conversation along.

It’s fair to talk about life when discussing the termination of a pregnancy, and it is important we talk about the woman’s life, for she is often a mother already, choosing to end an unintended pregnancy. Overturning Roe will leave some children motherless. Let’s have the debate about elevating the rights of a fertilized egg above those of a mother of three struggling to make ends meet, as Colorado voters will be asked to do this fall.

Richards and Moran helped broaden the discussion to women’s health care needs like affordable family planning, cancer screening for low-income women and providing health care for low income children. All issues women care about that too often get dismissed in discussions about abortion, and all issues that most of the same people opposed to abortion rights, also oppose, at home and in our policies abroad.

In his interview with Sen. Dick Durbin, Matthews claimed that he doesn’t hear Democrats talking about the need for education and prevention efforts to reduce the number of abortions. Matthews isn’t listening to progressive leaders and pro-choice groups who champion the Prevention First Act, the Responsible Education About Life Act, Unintended Pregnancy Reduction Act, or the Access to Birth Control Act. On the global policy front, a debate continues to fester in Congress over HIV Prevention in Africa, which largely impacts women and girls, with the far-right playing (and some Democrats caving) on fears of abortion politics once again — an issue that has nothing to do with preventing the spread of HIV. These and other prevention efforts are supported by politicians in both parties, just not those in the extreme far-right wing of the GOP. Media Matters has a great look at several instances on Hardball where Matthews’ guests have in fact talked about preventing abortion.

After Durbin provides a broad brush look at the prevention goals, Matthews does suggest that anyone who is on the wrong side of prevention legislation will pay politically. He’s right, and the next time he has Wendy Wright from the Concerned Women for America, or Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council, or any of his other far-right regulars, he should ask them why they are opposed to contraception, family planning, comprehensive sexuality education and other efforts to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies or spread of HIV. Matthews should ask those questions of conservative strategists, Senators and Congressmen who come on his show, instead of just touching on abortion then moving on. (The relevant exchange with Sen. Durbin begins at 2:04 with a discussion of women voters more generally, then the question of abortion at 3:00. Unfortunately NBC doesn’t make its video more easily available.)

Finally, in this exchange with conservative Las Vegas radio personality Heidi Harris and Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman (an intellectual mismatch of gargantuan proportion), Amy Goodman calls up issues of concern to women: war, minimum wage, social security, poverty, and the people surrounding Sen. John McCain, highlighting the canceled fundraiser at the home of Texas oil baron Clayton Williams who infamously compared rape to bad weather, saying "you just have to lay back and enjoy it."

Harris suggests "abortion doesn’t matter to women under 50, they don’t care about abortion rights … 30 year old women don’t have a concept of what it’s like not to have that right," and "I don’t think its going to change no matter who is on the Supreme Court." Harris’ uninformed rant at the end of the interview demonstrates cable TV bookers over-reliance on the same personalities when, in fact, there are many qualified women who could discuss the full range of reproductive health issues more cogently, many of them featured here on Rewire. (Relevant portion begins at 5:17 but the entire interview is worth watching to see what passes for conservative these days, and because Amy Goodman is so good at making the points she wants to make).

Matthews is not everyone’s cup of tea and Hardball is aptly named as it reflects its host’s on air style. As he continues to work through his discomfort discussing issues of race, gender, and age that are all front and center in this election, we can at least be thankful that he hears the critics and attempts to make adjustments. On the specific issues of women’s reproductive health and rights, it is not just Matthews, but most of the mainstream media that must disabuse itself of the notion that it’s all about abortion. In a year defined by change, it is possible to shift this debate to more accurately reflect the personal and private life decisions American families face so that voters can make better judgments come November. The media should do its job and accurately report the facts on reproductive health and the politics surrounding it, demonstrating that it too can change to reflect what is really going on in America.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.