Commentary Politics

What the 2012 Election Means for Women and for Feminism

Amanda Marcotte

Pro-choice candidates gained big time this election cycle, while anti-choice politicians lost even more power, at least on a national level. The lesson of all this is simple: After decades of feminists arguing for women's rights, the majority of the public is on board.

The Obama campaign really pushed the idea that this election would be in large part a referendum on the war on women, to see if the majority of voting Americans were for or against it. Turns out that they were more right than they knew, because the voters across the country took a long, hard look at the war on women and said no. Think Progress had a quick item:

While the parties controlling the House and Senate did not change after the 2012 election, the number of pro-choice members of Congress increased. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, Congress gained 18 pro-choice lawmakers in the House and Senate and lost 10 anti-choice representatives in the House. Congress also lost nine “mixed choice” members. For several anti-choice candidates, their out of touch, often medically inaccurate comments about sexual assault, women’s reproductive systems, and abortion rights doomed their campaigns.

The issue of reproductive rights is becoming, along with many other issues, more polarized. The right has become more extremist, with anti-choice Republicans increasingly a “no exceptions” stance on their calls for an abortion ban (though Romney’s platform demanded the usual near-worthless calls for an exception for rape, as well as the health of the mother). Meanwhile, instead of merely defending the status quo, Obama took strong action this year to expand reproductive health care access, when his HHS included contraception in the list of preventive health care services that have to be covered by insurance without a copay. The voters not only rewarded Obama, but pro-choice candidates generally, as NARAL and Think Progress note.

Indeed, generally speaking, voters came out strong in support of women this year. We now have a record number of female members coming into the 2013 Senate, for instance, with some female candidates such as Heidi Heitkamp overcoming long odds to win their seats. Tammy Baldwin will be the first openly lesbian Senator ever elected. To make it even more exciting, some of the new Senators are strongly progressive, such as Elizabeth Warren and Mazie Hirono, with quite a few eyes looking to Warren especially to take a bold leadership position on pushing for a more progressive Senate.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The main takeaway for feminists in all this is simple: Feminism wins at the ballot box, especially if you’re looking at a high voter turnout election like this one. While our opposition is loud and powerful, the reality is that we’ve been making our arguments for decades to the public, and it looks like the public actually agrees, even if the word “feminist” continues to be treated like a dirty word. It’s not just that candidates who protect and expand women’s rights won, but candidates who revealed the ugly streak of misogyny lurking under a feigned concern for “life”—such as Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin—grossed the voters out, and were voted down in elections they would have easily won if they could have restrained themselves.

I think the reason for this is two-fold and simple. First, Americans really prioritize thinking of themselves as fair people, and the issues of feminism really can be boiled down to issues of fairness. The other reason, which Obama emphasized in the second debate, is that liberal feminists have really driven home the message that when women do better, everyone does better. While there’s still lingering cultural anxiety over myths such as the belief that it’s better for kids to have a stay-at-home mother, by and large, people know how far women have come and how much better the lives of everyone, including men and children, are for it.

The birth control benefit is a really good example. While conservative pundits ran around calling women who use prescription contraceptives sluts and trying to frame it as a woman-only issue, I suspect the average American is more than a little aware that a wide range of women, from women who have been in monogamous relationships for decades to women who are juggling a number of sex partners, need contraception. Not only that, most people understand very well that men benefit from contraception, too. Children, too, as all but a handful of “Quiverfull” people and deluded but rich right-wing men know that families who limit the number of children they have are better able to care for the ones they do have.

The writer and blogger Roy Edroso, whose main political wheelhouse is poking righteous fun at silly conservative bloggers, blamed the out-of-touch sexism of conservative politicians and pundits for the Democrats performing better at the polls than they were expected to do:

And here conservatives turned out to be a big, fat liability for their cause. As Republican after Republican made crackpot comments about rape, contraception, and abortion, the GOP’s rightwing brain trust unfailingly followed up and said, yeah, that’s what we believe, that’s what we’ve always believed.

And because the conventional wisdom had always been that autonomous, sexually active women and the men who love them are just a fringe constituency, instead of questioning the wisdom of attacking them, the big brains questioned the wisdom of having Sandra Fluke speak at the Democratic Convention.

After this election, if conservatives are smart, they’ll realized the public doesn’t share their belief that it’s weird and perverted to support women’s basic right to be sexual. But already we’re seeing that this isn’t going to be the case, with Fox News and talk radio hosts going right back to making these kinds of gross assumptions about people who care about contraception access. No doubt my podcast will have plenty of mocking-the-opposition-for-prudery material for months to come as a result of this. 

News Politics

Clinton Campaign Announces Tim Kaine as Pick for Vice President

Ally Boguhn

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

The Clinton campaign announced Friday that Sen. Tim Kaine (R-VA) has been selected to join Hillary Clinton’s ticket as her vice presidential candidate.

“I’m thrilled to announce my running mate, @TimKaine, a man who’s devoted his life to fighting for others,” said Clinton in a tweet.

“.@TimKaine is a relentless optimist who believes no problem is unsolvable if you put in the work to solve it,” she added.

The prospect of Kaine’s selection has been criticized by some progressives due to his stances on issues including abortion as well as bank and trade regulation.

Kaine signed two letters this week calling for the regulations on banks to be eased, according to a Wednesday report published by the Huffington Post, thereby ”setting himself up as a figure willing to do battle with the progressive wing of the party.”

Charles Chamberlain, executive director of the progressive political action committee Democracy for America, told the New York Times that Kaine’s selection “could be disastrous for our efforts to defeat Donald Trump in the fall” given the senator’s apparent support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Just before Clinton’s campaign made the official announcement that Kaine had been selected, the senator praised the TPP during an interview with the Intercept, though he signaled he had ultimately not decided how he would vote on the matter.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Kaine’s record on reproductive rights has also generated controversy as news began to circulate that he was being considered to join Clinton’s ticket. Though Kaine recently argued in favor of providing Planned Parenthood with access to funding to fight the Zika virus and signed on as a co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act—which would prohibit states and the federal government from enacting restrictions on abortion that aren’t applied to comparable medical services—he has also been vocal about his personal opposition to abortion.

In a June interview on NBC’s Meet the Press, Kaine told host Chuck Todd he was “personally” opposed to abortion. He went on, however, to affirm that he still believed “not just as a matter of politics, but even as a matter of morality, that matters about reproduction and intimacy and relationships and contraception are in the personal realm. They’re moral decisions for individuals to make for themselves. And the last thing we need is government intruding into those personal decisions.”

As Rewire has previously reported, though Kaine may have a 100 percent rating for his time in the Senate from Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the campaign website for his 2005 run for governor of Virginia promised he would “work in good faith to reduce abortions” by enforcing Virginia’s “restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother.”

As governor, Kaine did support some existing restrictions on abortion, including Virginia’s parental consent law and a so-called informed consent law. He also signed a 2009 measure that created “Choose Life” license plates in the state, and gave a percentage of the proceeds to a crisis pregnancy network.

Regardless of Clinton’s vice president pick, the “center of gravity in the Democratic Party has shifted in a bold, populist, progressive direction,” said Stephanie Taylor, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, in an emailed statement. “It’s now more important than ever that Hillary Clinton run an aggressive campaign on core economic ideas like expanding Social Security, debt-free college, Wall Street reform, and yes, stopping the TPP. It’s the best way to unite the Democratic Party, and stop Republicans from winning over swing voters on bread-and-butter issues.”

News Abortion

Parental Notification Law Struck Down in Alaska

Michelle D. Anderson

"The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions," said Janet Crepps, senior counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm."

The Alaska Supreme Court has struck down a state law requiring physicians to give the parents, guardians, or custodians of teenage minors a two-day notice before performing an abortion.

The court ruled that the parental notification law, which applies to teenagers younger than 18, violated the Alaska Constitution’s equal protection guarantee and could not be enforced.

The ruling stems from an Anchorage Superior Court decision that involved the case of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and physicians Dr. Jan Whitefield and Dr. Susan Lemagie against the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors.

In the lower court ruling, a judge denied Planned Parenthood’s requested preliminary injunction against the law as a whole and went on to uphold the majority of the notification law.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Planned Parenthood and the physicians had appealed that superior court ruling and asked for a reversal on both equal protection and privacy grounds.

Meanwhile, the State of Alaska and the notification law’s sponsors appealed the court’s decision to strike some of its provisions and the court’s ruling.

The notification law came about after an initiative approved by voters in August 2010. The law applied to “unemancipated, unmarried minors” younger than 18 seeking to terminate a pregnancy and only makes exceptions in documented cases of abuse and medical emergencies, such as one in which the pregnant person’s life is in danger.

Justice Daniel E. Winfree wrote in the majority opinion that the anti-choice law created “considerable tension between a minor’s fundamental privacy right to reproductive choice and how the State may advance its compelling interests.”

He said the law was discriminatory and that it could unjustifiably burden “the fundamental privacy rights only of minors seeking pregnancy termination, rather than [equally] to all pregnant minors.”

Chief Justice Craig Stowers dissented, arguing that the majority’s opinion “unjustifiably” departed from the Alaska Supreme Court’s prior approval of parental notification.

Stowers said the opinion “misapplies our equal protection case law by comparing two groups that are not similarly situated, and fails to consider how other states have handled similar questions related to parental notification laws.”

Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) officials praised the court’s ruling, saying that Alaska’s vulnerable teenagers will now be relieved of additional burdensome hurdles in accessing abortion care. Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union, CRR, and Planned Parenthood represented plaintiffs in the case.

Janet Crepps, senior counsel at CRR, said in a statement that the “decision provides important protection to the safety and well-being of young women who need to end a pregnancy.”

“The reality is that some young women face desperate circumstances and potentially violent consequences if they are forced to bring their parents into their reproductive health decisions. This law would have deprived these vulnerable women of their constitutional rights and put them at risk of serious harm,” Crepps said.

CRR officials also noted that most young women seeking abortion care involve a parent, but some do not because they live an abusive or unsafe home.

The American Medical Association, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine have said minors’ access to confidential reproductive health services should be protected, according to CRR.