Reports on women’s reasons for choosing public office are replete with data supporting the fact that these women, regardless of political party affiliation, are motivated to seek office by their desire to improve the lives of women and children. There are also occasions when women-electeds join hands across the political aisle to support a women’s cause, albeit usually of the “motherhood and apple pie” sort.
And women of every political stripe share that “girl power” bond so evident during the last couple weeks when America’s women Olympians were proving girl power to the right and to the left, literally. Regardless of political party affiliation we whooped and hollered; we didn’t know the athletes’ political views, but it didn’t matter. Knowing the desire and will of Gabby and Missy and Allyson and their team mates to assert their girl power was sufficient to being supportive.
Yet, while American women of differing political views share so many fundamental beliefs about the power (and virtue) of women, Republican and Democratic women officeholders increasingly differ in their approach to policy issues affecting women. The recent fight over re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and Republican women Member votes against the Paycheck Fairness Act are just two proof points.
Further proof came in the formation earlier this year of the Women’s Policy Committee by a group of Republican women Members. Alas, according to the Center for American Progress, these women are united in “…their legislative opposition to women’s rights…” including the fact that, as rated by Planned Parenthood: “20 of the 24…women earned a zero score, voting against reproductive health at every opportunity. The average score for the women was under 6 percent.”
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Therein lies the conundrum for Republican women voters as they consider their vote come presidential Election Day 2012. When the United States is as politically polarized as it’s ever been, now epitomized by the Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan presidential tickets, will women voters join these Repubican women elected officials and vote against their self interest?
That self-interest is, of course, as Planned Parenthood terms-it, one’s “reproductive health.” Controlling it creates the autonomy women need to make the choice to seek and hold office. Perhaps for that reason (when women run, women win), since Roe v. Wade rendered abortion constitutionally legal 40 years ago, generations of male elected officials have fought to dismantle it.
Paul Ryan represents this view, full and deep throat: He is a sponsor of the “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which gives states the right to ban abortions without exception. He seeks cuts to Medicaid funding and shifting distribution of the funds from the federal government to the state governments, thereby likely obviating the constitutional protection Roe provides. He voted for the Pence Amendment, which would have eliminated federal funding of Planned Parenthood’s provision of reproductive health services, i.e., birth control, (and not abortion). According to one writer, “…he (Ryan) has checked every box on the anti-abortion list. That includes support for ‘personhood’ (constitutional) amendments that protect life from conception—in other words, completely banning abortion.”
It is true Sarah Palin was also opposed to abortion: “Palin makes no secret of her abortion views.”
A member of the group Feminists for Life, she told Alaska Right to Life in 2002 that she ‘adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion.’ In an Eagle Forum Alaska questionnaire filled out during the 2006 gubernatorial race, Palin again stated that she is against abortion unless a doctor determined that a mother’s life would end due to the pregnancy. ‘I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society,’ she wrote, ‘we cannot condone ending an innocent’s life.’
But Palin got something of a pass from some women voters because of the historic nature of her candidacy. Just like the Jewish voters who disagreed with Joe Lieberman on policy who took pride in his selection as a vice-presidential candidate, some women voters took pride in Palin’s selection, notwithstanding her policy views. And just like seeing women run, swim, vault and jump changes young women’s views of what they can be (“strong is the new pretty,” according to Brian Williams), seeing Sarah Palin take charge made a positive difference to young women voters.
Some even voted for the Republican ticket. But no such pass is in the offing for Paul Ryan: Yet another attractive and polite white man, married with children and from a swing state, is the vice-presidential pick. No Title IX in play in Romney’s game, alas.
And so we approach Election Day 2012: What view do 2012’s Republican women voters have of Mitt Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan? What lesson will they take from seeing Republican women officeholders vouch for and endorse Paul Ryan, a man opposed every which way to sundown to women’s ability to control their reproductive destiny, a requisite to that very participation in public leadership? (I’m thinking hypocritical here.)
Will these voters be content once told that these women they see and hear endorsing Paul Ryan are just doing what they need to do, no big deal, either? Some women (of whatever view about their sisters) is better than no women?
Or will the Republican women voters of 2012 recognize this presidential election for what it really is for every American woman voter: a referendum on the very notion of what a woman can be in this day and age?
I, for one, am sitting on the edge of my seat for the next eighty-something days.