Analysis Politics

The Ryan Reaction: This Election Is Now About “Choice”

Robin Marty

This election is about choice.  A big choice.

“This election is looking more like the choice election Obama wanted than the economic referendum Romney wanted.”

When Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein tweeted that statement, he was talking about the clear differences between presidential tickets. Klein noted that the 2012 race would no longer be so much a referendum on Obama’s policies, but a choice between Obama’s vision versus the Republican Party’s economic plan to continue to increase wealth for the richest in our country on the backs of the poor and middle class.

But purposeful or not, Klein’s reaction the selection of Wisconsin GOP Congressman Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s vice presidential pick is actually correct in another way — this election is about choice. It’s about a woman’s ability to control her body, and a family’s ability to decide when to have or not have children. It’s about birth control, abortion, and access to health care.

The Presidential campaign knows it. “FACT: Paul Ryan would ban all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest,” said the presidential twitter account. “FACT: Paul Ryan co-sponsored a bill that would ban many common forms of birth control, including certain birth control pills,” they followed up an hour later.

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Reproductive rights groups were quick to point out that with the addition of Ryan, Romney was sending a clear signal that a woman and a family’s right to make medical decisions for themselves was not important to him. “I know I shouldn’t be shocked that Mitt Romney would choose a man in Paul Ryan who has a vision of turning the clock back decades for women, from dismantling Medicare and Social Security that our mothers and grandmothers depend on to denying coverage of birth control and cancer screenings for women across the nation,” responded EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock via email statement.

“Women voters all across America waking up to this news this morning now have more reason than ever before to ensure that we return Barack Obama and Joe Biden to the White House with a Senate and House full of prochoice Democratic women who will move us forward, not backwards.”

Women should beware, because they are the targets or the disproportionate casualties in virtually every policy Romney and Ryan propose,” a statement from Terry O’Neill, President of NOW, agreed.

A Romney-Ryan administration would support anti-abortion efforts like “personhood” amendments, totally defund Planned Parenthood and all federally-funded family planning services, and use government to sanction religious opposition to birth control. Their vision is a threat to women’s rights, public health and the economic security of the vast majority of people in the United States — all for the benefit of the most fortunate among us.

Anti-choice groups are already rejoicing in a pick that proves that the Republican ticket is ready to declare fertilized eggs and more deserving of rights than women. Americans Unite For Life writes in favor of the choice, stating:

In a February 2009 op-ed, Congressman Ryan stated that “[W]e need to protect [unborn] life as we would protect other children…I remain committed to restoring the value of human life and fighting for the rights of the unborn…Most importantly, we must ensure that the most vulnerable among us – both unborn children and mothers struggling with unplanned pregnancies – are afforded the compassion and opportunities they need to choose life.”

Congressman Ryan’s commitment to protecting life is evidenced by Congressman Ryan’s 100% pro-life voting record in AUL Action’s, AUL’s sister organization, score card. During his tenure in Congress, he has consistently worked to safeguard all innocent human life and to advance the health and safety of women by voting for life-affirming, pro-woman legislation including voting to end federal taxpayer funding of abortion, and repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that is wrought with anti-life provisions. He has also co-sponsored legislation to protect the freedom of conscience, and to protect the health and safety of minor girls.

In a piece he wrote for the Heritage Foundation and reported at LifeNews, Congressman Ryan writes: “I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect. I do know that we cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism about who is human. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, ‘The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.’ The freedom to choose is pointless for someone who does not have the freedom to live. So the right of ‘choice’ of one human being cannot trump the right to ‘life’ of another. How long can we sustain our commitment to freedom if we continue to deny the very foundation of freedom—life—for the most vulnerable human beings?”

Congressman Ryan’s record particularly demonstrates his understanding that fiscal and social issues go hand in hand. Seven out of 10 Americans oppose the use of their tax dollars to support abortion, and Congressman Ryan has and will continue to ensure American’ hard-earned tax dollars do not line the coffers of the nation’s largest abortion provider, a scandal-ridden, corrupt organization that disregards the health and safety of women and young girls.

John Locke once said: “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.” At a time when many leaders attempt to placate or mislead hidden agendas with words, what an honor to have someone who is defending Americans in his actions—someone who is combating the real war on women and defending innocent human life.

Congressman Ryan’s actions—particularly his support of life-affirming legislation—demonstrate that he whole-heartedly shares AUL’s goal of ensuring that all are welcomed in life and protected in law.

AUL President Charmaine Yoest is more blunt.

“Paul Ryan has been an eloquent defender of life, articulating his view that policy and principles can work together.  America is founded on the essential belief that every person has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – translating that principle into law in statehouses across America and in the U.S. Capitol is the central mission of our political leaders. On the issue of defending life in particular, the use of the bully pulpit is crucial, and we look forward to hearing more from Congressman Ryan on the need to ensure that every person is welcomed in life and protected in law.”

“Paul Ryan’s record demonstrates that the Life issue is an economic issue. This election is a referendum on President Obama’s championing of a health care plan that is the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade. And AUL Action welcomes Congressman Paul Ryan’s strong stance against buttressing the abortion industry with American’s hard-earned tax dollars.”

However, where the anti-choice activists are excited by the pick, not all conservatives, even on the far right, are as enthused. Tea Party leader Richard A. Viguerie said via press release that:

“In choosing House Budget Committee Chairman Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, Governor Romney has made a good choice, and it shows that Romney has his eye on one of the most important issues in this election — Washington’s out of control spending. However, Paul Ryan is not the bold conservative leader or ‘boat rocker’ grassroots conservatives and Tea Partiers were hoping for.

“Ryan is a good man, a strong family man and one who by all appearances lives according to conservative principles; he will help reassure social conservatives that Republicans stand for traditional values [but]…To lock-up the support of those 4 million independents and right-of-center voters who walked away from the Republicans in 2006, but came back in the Tea Party wave in 2010, Governor Romney needed to make a bold choice. Paul Ryan is a good choice, but not a bold choice.”

Not bold? Maybe not enough for conservatives. For women who are concerned about being sent to jail if Republicans ever manage to finally make abortion illegal again, this election really is a stark choice indeed.

Roundups Law and Policy

Gavel Drop: The Fight Over Voter ID Laws Heats Up in the Courts

Jessica Mason Pieklo & Imani Gandy

Texas and North Carolina both have cases that could bring the constitutionality of Voter ID laws back before the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as this term.

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

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton intends to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate the state’s voter ID law.

Meanwhile, according to Politifact, North Carolina attorney general and gubernatorial challenger Roy Cooper is actually saving taxpayers money by refusing to appeal the Fourth Circuit’s ruling on the state’s voter ID law, so Gov. Pat McCrory (R) should stop complaining about it.

And in other North Carolina news, Ian Millhiser writes that the state has hired high-powered conservative attorney Paul Clement to defend its indefensible voter ID law.

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Alex Thompson writes in Vice that the Zika virus is about to hit states with the most restrictive abortion laws in the United States, including Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. So if you’re pregnant, stay away. No one has yet offered advice for those pregnant people who can’t leave Zika-prone areas.

Robin Marty writes on Care2 about Americans United for Life’s (AUL) latest Mad Lib-style model bill, the “National Abortion Data Reporting Law.” Attacking abortion rights: It’s what AUL does.

The Washington Post profiled Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Given this Congress, that will likely spur another round of hearings. (It did get a response from Richards herself.)

Kimberly Strawbridge Robinson writes in Bloomberg BNA that Stanford Law Professor Pamela Karlan thinks the Supreme Court’s clarification of the undue burden standard in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt will have ramifications for voting rights cases.

This must-read New York Times piece reminds us that we still have a long way to go in accommodating breastfeeding parents on the job.

Commentary Violence

When It Comes to Threats, Online or on the Campaign Trail, It’s Not Up to Women to ‘Suck It Up’

Lauren Rankin

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Bizarre and inflammatory rhetoric is nothing new for this election. In fact, the Republican presidential candidate has made an entire campaign out of it. But during a rally last Tuesday, Donald Trump sunk to a new level. He lamented that if Hillary Clinton is elected president in November, there will be no way to stop her from making judicial nominations.

He said, “By the way, and if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.”

For a candidate marred by offensive comment after offensive comment, this language represents a new low, because, as many immediately explained, Trump appears to be making a veiled threat against Clinton, whether he had intended to or not.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) called it a “death threat” and Dan Rather, former CBS Evening News host, called it a “direct threat of violence against a political rival.” Former President Ronald Reagan’s daughter Patti Davis said it was “horrifying,” and even the author of an NRA-linked blog initially tweeted, “That was a threat of violence. As a real supporter of the #2A it’s appalling to me,” before deleting the tweet as the NRA expressed support for Trump.

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This kind of language is violent in nature on its face, but it is also gendered, following in a long line of misogynistic rhetoric this election season. Chants of “kill the bitch” and “hang the bitch” have become common at Trump rallies. These aren’t solely examples of bitter political sniping; these are overt calls for violence.

When women speak out or assert ourselves, we are challenging long-held cultural norms about women’s place and role in society. Offensively gendered language represents an attempt to maintain the status quo. We’ve seen this violent rhetoric online as well. That isn’t an accident. When individuals throw pejorative terms at those of who refuse to be silenced, they are attempting to render public spaces, online or on the campaign trail, unsafe for us.

There is no shortage of examples demonstrating how individuals who feel threatened by subtle power shifts happening in our society have pushed back against those changes. The interactions happening online, on various social media platforms, offer the most vivid examples of the ways in which people are doing their best to try to make public spaces as uncomfortable as possible for marginalized populations.

Social media offers the opportunity for those whose voices are routinely ignored to hold power in a new way. It is a slow but real shift from old, more traditional structures of privileging certain voices to a more egalitarian megaphone, of sorts.

For marginalized populations, particularly women of color and transgender women, social media can provide an opportunity to be seen and heard in ways that didn’t exist before. But it also means coming up against a wall of opposition, often represented in a mundane but omnipresent flow of hatred, abuse, and violent threats from misogynist trolls.

The internet has proven to be a hostile place for women. According to a report from the United Nations, almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence. As someone who has received threats of violence myself, I know what it feels like to have sharing your voice met with rage. There are women who experience this kind of violent rhetoric to an even greater degree than I could ever dream.

The list of women who have been inundated with threats of violence could go on for days. Women like Zerlina Maxwell, who was showered with rape threats after saying that we should teach men not to rape; Lindy West received hundreds upon hundreds of violent and threatening messages after she said that she didn’t think rape jokes were funny; Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live, was driven off of Twitter after a coordinated attack of racist, sexist, and violent language against her.

And yet, rarely are such threats taken seriously by the broader community, including by those able to do something about it.

Many people remain woefully unaware of how cruel and outright scary it can be for women online, particularly women with prolific digital profiles. Some simply refuse to see it as a real issue, declaring that “It’s just the internet!” and therefore not indicative of potential physical violence. Law enforcement doesn’t even have a solution, often unwilling to take these threats seriously, as Amanda Hess found out.

This kind of response is reflected in those who are trying to defend Donald Trump after the seemingly indefensible. Despite the overwhelming criticism from many, including some renowned Republicans, we have also seen some Trump supporters try to diminish or outright erase the violent aspect of this clearly threatening rhetoric. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and former mayor of New York City Rudy Giuliani have both said that they assumed Trump meant get rid of her “by voting.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that it “sounds like just a joke gone bad.”

The violent nature of Donald Trump’s comments seem apparent to almost everyone who heard him. To try to dismiss it as a “joke” or insist that it is those who are offended that are wrong is itself harmful. This is textbook gaslighting, a form of psychological abuse in which a victim’s reality is eroded by telling them that what they experienced isn’t true.

But gaslighting has played a major role in Donald Trump’s campaign, with some of his supporters insisting that it is his critics who are overreacting—that it is a culture of political correctness, rather than his inflammatory and oppressive rhetoric, that is the real problem.

This is exactly what women experience online nearly every day, and we are essentially told to just suck it up, that it’s just the internet, that it’s not real. But tell that to Jessica Valenti, who received a death and rape threat against her 5-year-old daughter. Tell that to Anita Sarkeesian, who had to cancel a speech at Utah State after receiving a death threat against her and the entire school. Tell that to Brianna Wu, a game developer who had to flee her home after death threats. Tell that to Hillary Clinton, who is trying to make history as the first woman president, only to have her life threatened by citizens, campaign advisers, and now through a dog whistle spoken by the Republican presidential candidate himself.

Threats of violence toward women are commonplace on the internet for the same reason that they are increasingly common at Donald Trump’s rallies: They are effective at perpetuating violence against women as the norm.

Language matters. When that language is cruel, aggressive, or outright violent, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it doesn’t come without consequences. There is a reason that it is culturally unacceptable to say certain words like “cunt” and other derogatory terms; they have a history of harm and oppression, and they are often directly tied to acts of violence. When someone tweets a woman “I hope your boyfriend beats you,” it isn’t just a trolling comment; it reflects the fact that in the United States, more women are killed by intimate partners than by any other perpetrator, that three or more women die every day from intimate partner violence. When Donald Trump not only refuses to decry calls of violence and hate speech at his rallies but in fact comes across as threatening his female opponent, it isn’t just an inflammatory gaffe; it reflects the fact that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Threats of violence have no place in presidential campaigns, but they also have no place online, either. Until we commit ourselves to rooting out violent language against women and to making public spaces safer and more accommodating for women and all marginalized people, Trump’s comments are just par for the course.

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