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Conservative Women’s Outreach Panel Asks How to Get Men More Involved

Emily Crockett

“Young pretty girls are the greatest communicators” when it comes to reaching out to young men on college campuses about "pro-life," conservative values, said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life.

Click here for all our coverage of the 2014 Values Voter Summit.

Socially conservative political activists at this year’s Values Voter Summit acknowledged that they have a problem with women and young voters.

One solution? Get more men involved.

The first question panelists at the summit’s “How Conservatives Can Win With Millennials and Women” breakout session asked each other was, “How can we more effectively bring men into the discussion on ‘pro-life’ issues?”

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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It might seem an odd question for a panel focused on outreach to women, especially given that men already dominate public discussion of women’s issues in the media and in Congress.

But according to the panel—featuring president of Students for Life, Kristan Hawkins, editor-at-large at National Review Online, Kathryn Jean Lopez, and Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute program director Catherine Helsley Rodriguez—young men in particular feel they have no right to have a voice in the conversation about abortion because it is seen as a “women’s issue.”

“There are fathers out there who can’t stop their girlfriends from killing that dad’s child in the womb, and that’s a tragedy,” Hawkins said.

Hawkins said men should have a say in whether a woman has an abortion because he may be obligated to pay child support if the woman decides to go through with the pregnancy. She claimed to use that point often when counseling young men who felt left out of the decision-making process.

“Young pretty girls are the greatest communicators” when it comes to reaching out to young men on college campuses about “pro-life,” conservative values, Hawkins said.

Regarding millennials (born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s), the panelists seemed to swerve between saying that young people are strongly principled and unpersuaded by slogans or brands, and that young people are turned against the conservative brand by media and cultural messaging even though they really identify with conservative values.

“We’re winning on economic issues among young people,” Rodriguez said, adding that polling shows millennials are supportive of some tax cuts.

Panelists repeatedly claimed that young people are more “pro-life” than their parents’ generation, though they failed to mention that a majority of young people are pro-choice and their views don’t differ much from those of their parents.

Why don’t these “pro-life” and pro-tax-cut young people vote for Republicans, then? Rodriguez’s answer: They “agree with us on having more money in their pockets and killing babies is bad,” but “once people hear those are conservative positions, they don’t want to have anything to do with it.”

Conservatism’s problem with young people comes down to bad branding, the panelists agreed. But Rodriguez said that millennials “see through slogans, which are flimsy” and are “more interested in companies that have a mission or purpose.”

She acknowledged that millennials disagree with conservative ideology on the role of government when it comes to infrastructure spending and the social safety net, but wrote that off as youthful ignorance. Millennials “want it all,” she said, and don’t understand that those ideas are an either-or proposition.

Rodriguez implied that single women are similarly ignorant of economics, saying that more married woman vote with the GOP because they are usually responsible for managing household finances. She didn’t elaborate on whether single women are less likely to be head of their own household.

Lopez agreed that millennials “are looking for someone who will stand up for their beliefs.” She used the example of Rand Paul’s famous 13-hour filibuster on drones, but also said that millennials “didn’t care about drones” until that moment brought attention to it.

Despite the fact that about three-quarters of millennials think insurance companies should be required to cover birth control, Hawkins also spent a considerable amount of time attacking birth control as a “dangerous chemical,” condemning members of her own party who think it’s a good idea to provide it over the counter, and comparing oral contraceptives to asbestos and cigarettes.

Her reasoning for this comparison was that all three substances are labeled “Group 1” carcinogens by the American Cancer Society, but medical professionals say it doesn’t make sense to compare them on that basis.

The Group 1 category isn’t about how dangerous a substance is, but how likely it is to increase the risk of cancer at all. That possible increase of breast cancer from contraceptives is not only very small, but also goes away after a woman stops using the medication—and birth control also protects against other types of cancer.

Oral contraceptives “would not be nearly as likely to cause cancer as asbestos or cigarettes, and they also protect against cancer in the ovary and endometrium,” James Trussell, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, told Rewire. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that cigarettes kill 480,000 Americans per year, and asbestos is responsible for the longest-running mass tort litigation in American history. No such adverse effects have been observed for the estimated four out of five sexually experienced women who have ever used the pill.

Lopez, along with many other speakers at the Values Voter Summit, said that conservatives just need to be more vocal about their values—that shrinking back in fear of mainstream backlash is counter-productive because it discourages Americans who have conservative values from identifying with conservatism and the Republican Party.