McCain Ridicules Women’s Health; Voters, Pundits Astonished

Emily Douglas

Pundits and bloggers thought that by dismissing an exception to abortion bans for women's health, McCain was alienating the very voters he had spent months courting.

"In a race in which millions of dollars have been spent for the votes of
American women, McCain managed…to mock laws
protecting a woman’s right to sue for being paid less than a man, and
the notion that late-term abortions should be allowed in cases where a
mother’s health is threatened," the LA Times’s Cathleen Decker wrote after last night’s presidential debates.

Decker wasn’t the only one who thought by dismissing the notion that abortion to protect a woman’s health should be legal, McCain alienated the voters he had spent months courting.

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow thought the line — "Just again, the example of the eloquence of
Senator Obama. He’s health for the mother. You know, that’s been
stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost
anything" —
would hurt McCain, too. "I think the line that
someone is going to regret, one that will resonate and will hurt McCain
the most is when McCain ridiculed the idea that the life of the mother
should be a concern in the abortion debate. Women everywhere will
reflect on that – that they’ll be forced by the government to carry to
term and give birth. This will be seared on women’s minds: the
government is not going to excuse you, short of death, from giving
birth. It’s the extreme pro-abortion position," she said on Countdown.

Chris Matthews thought that trivializing the significance of the health exception wouldn’t gain McCain any women voters, either: "I believe that it was a big
mistake by John McCain tonight with regards to abortion rights. If it
was his goal to win over the Hillary voter, or younger women in Florida
or South East Pennsylvania, then what he said is not going to help him.
You can’t belittle the health exception with regard to abortion. You
can’t say the exception is ‘only her possible death.’ The health
exception is in Roe V. Wade and characterizing it in a diminutive way
is going to lose a lot of pro-choice women."

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Talking Points Memo’s Joshua Marshall concurred: "[T]he part of the debate where Sen. McCain seemed to mock the issue of a woman’s health was weird and … well, kind of disgusting. It’s hard for me to see how’s he seriously pushing for the women’s vote."

Also on MSNBC, Politico’s Roger Simon remarked that Obama’s position "is not an
extreme pro-abortion position. It’s the position of the United States
Supreme Court…. I mean, Barack Obama’s not way off on the left on this
one. He’s supporting the law of the land."

The Boston Globe’s Political Intelligence blog reported that abortion rights advocates "slam[med]" McCain for his dismissal of the health exception. Said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, "His disregard for women’s health caused a national gasp, as McCain let
slip the truth about his extreme position on choice — a reality he
tends to save for speeches to his far-right base."

Insta-polls seemed to agree with the pundits.  Jim Poniewozik at TIME wrote: "Dial group report 2: Um, Sen. McCain, women don’t like it when you put ‘health of the mother’ in air quotes."

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