South Carolina Democratic Chairwoman Carol Fowler made a political and personal mistake yesterday when talking about Sarah Palin and Republicans are seizing the opportunity to highlight what they see as attacks by the Obama campaign and, according to some, sexism.
During an interview with Politico, Fowler said that McCain had chosen a running mate whose "primary qualification seems to be that she has not had an abortion."
According to ABC News, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) shot back today on a conference call saying that the Democrats are trying to "demean Palin…and wipe out all of her accomplishments."
Republican politician Rep. Marsha Blackurn (R-TN), on the same call, said that,
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"What we are seeing is a pattern that has come into play…he passed over Sen. Clinton, and many feel like he also passed over Gov. Sebelius, both as running mates, and then the lipstick comment that he made yesterday."
Fowler explained her comments today saying,
"I personally admire and respect the difficult choices that women make every day, and I apologize to anyone who finds my comment offensive," said Fowler in her statement. "I clumsily was making a point about people in South Carolina who may vote based on a single issue. Whether it’s the environment, the economy, the war, or a woman’s right to choose, there are people who will cast their vote based on a single issue. That was the only point I was attempting to make."
Fowler’s remark, ultimately, was thoughtless but does peel back the layers on how the issues of reproductive and sexual health are presented during campaign seasons and in between seasons as well.
There is a basic lack of understanding and empathy when it comes to women’s personal reproductive and sexual health issues that play out politically in harmful ways. Whether or not Palin has or has not had an abortion is not the issue. I understand that Fowler seemed to be attempting to make reference to those voters who will only vote for Palin because she opposes abortion access – including for victims of rape and incest.
But it was a clumsy statement that only serves to stigmatize women who have abortions and make claim to a situation that Fowler knows nothing about – Palin’s personal decisions about her own life, health and family. After all, isn’t this one of the core tenets of a value system that allows for women’s reproductive rights?
Without entrusting all women to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives, the call for the right to reproductive and sexual health autonomy rings hollow.
Our focus, as voters, needs to be on ensuring inclusive reproductive and sexual health and rights policy positions that include abortion access, comprehensive and age appropriate sex-ed, federal funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs, access to contraception, funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, health insurance for low income children, paid family leave and more. Our female politician’s reproductive and sexual health decisions are irrelevant.