Posted on 11.05.2012 by Admin
This guest post is by Nadia Smiecinska.
With the presidential election just days away, the candidates are working overtime to convince voters that they are the better pick to lead this country through the next four years. Women’s votes become a hot topic in the last months, particularly since women make up just over half of the electorate.
Women appear to favor President Obama’s message, specifically on issues related to reproductive rights. However that is not the entire story. Differing viewpoints on abortion and contraception provide a glimpse of each candidate’s fundamental opinion of what the role of government ought to be in the lives of the American people and who they will fight for.
Obama’s Record on Reproductive Rights
It is no secret that President Obama’s record on women’s rights and, more specifically, reproductive freedoms outshines Governor Romney’s. NARAL Pro-Choice America has a detailed breakdown of each candidate’s actions on choice and President Obama’s unwavering commitment to women making their own decisions without the government dictating morality is commendable. Besides being a consistent defender of Roe v. Wade, President Obama has also made sure that under The Affordable Care Act, insurance policies must cover contraception, counseling and testing for a variety of sexually transmitted diseases, like HPV, and preventative care visits without copay. He also continues to support comprehensive sex education programs, which were cut or significantly defunded under the last Republican administration in favor of abstinence education, and continues to invest in teen pregnancy prevention programs.
Romney’s (Confused) Record on Reproductive Rights
Despite Romney’s latest, slightly more liberal opinions on choice, which differ from those voiced throughout the campaign trail and now specifically target women in swing states, his views appear confused at best and outright dishonest at worst. When Mitt Romney ran for U.S. Senate in the 1990s and lost -- subsequently successfully winning the governorship in Massachusetts -- he supported a woman’s right to choose and even signed into law a measure “for Massachusetts to apply for a federal Medicaid family-planning waiver to expand services to more low-income women and families.” However, during the same term as governor, he failed to sign a bill that would have allowed rape survivors information and access to the morning-after-pill. In the last decade, as Romney has become a national candidate, seeking the presidency twice, he has continued to move further away from choice. As the Republican Party transitioned ever more to the right, he has done his best to align his own views on everything from reproductive rights to environmental issues with the du jour sentiments of the GOP.
Romney as Moderate?
Current political ads, which serve as damage control on the reproductive rights front, portray Romney as a compassionate, moderate conservative supporting abortion in cases of rape, incest and a threat to the mother’s life. Talking points announcing that he has no objections to contraception are mere distractions, allowing for a gradual shift to the center of the electorate. While Governor Romney’s private opinion about reproductive health may be moderate, in the current climate of right-wing fervor chipping away at reproductive rights, it is vital to examine his record more meticulously. If pushed by his ever right-leaning party, would Romney fight for even minor exceptions for abortion? Would the opportunity to appoint a very right-leaning Supreme Court Judge appeal to him and the current GOP? Or would he take steps to make sure that contraception is easily accessible to any woman regardless of income? Given his flip-flopping attitude on most issues, the answer is no. What good is theoretical support for abortion in some cases when he continues to endorse politicians like Richard Mourdock of Indiana? Romney may think that contraception is just fine but he doesn’t seem to believe that it is the role of government to assure it is accessible and affordable as provided by The Affordable Care Act. Believing in the merits of contraception ought to be differentiated from fighting for its expanded access.
GOP Hypocrisy: From Abortion to the Economy
In Romney’s world, access to contraception is acceptable as long as women are financially responsible for it and abortion is restricted to those who suffer rape, incest or are at risk of dying as a result of the pregnancy. So if a woman is unable to pay for her contraception, and the government has no apparent role to play in ensuring that contraception is within every woman’s reach, it is her problem. After all, she should pull herself up by her bootstraps and deal with it on her own since America, according to the Republican Party, is a place for rugged individualism and boundless opportunities for all. In the case of an unplanned pregnancy however -- one not resulting from incest, rape or threatening her life -- all of a sudden the government should take a major interest in what happens inside her body.
This type of conservative attitude, bordering on hypocrisy, carries over into various policies such as civil rights for gay and lesbian couples, the economy and environment -- just to name a few. It’s fine if you are gay, just don’t expect equal rights guarantees from the government. If you are struggling financially, tighten your belt, but don’t expect those at the high end of the economic ladder to have to do the same. Sure, we need an alternative to fossil fuels, but right now there is quite a bit of profit left in dirty, low-tech energy and nature won’t mind the exploitation or pollution. To sum up, it is a philosophy that rewards, monetarily or with certain privileges, those who already have advantages -- financial or social -- and punishes those who, for a multitude of reasons, do not. Emotional, heroic speeches about the freedom to live as you wish and without the government getting in the way of entrepreneurship do not lay out a realistic blueprint for how the average citizen can improve their station in life.
Defending Obama’s Record
People’s frustrations with the current economic situation are understandable, but believing that the 2008 meltdown is something that can be remedied in less than half a decade is terribly naïve. President Obama has not yet lived up to every campaign promise, but there are a number of notable actions that the administration can be proud of, including better prospects for those seeking more affordable healthcare and economic hope provided through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If President Obama wins another four years in the Oval Office, he will not only continue moving forward with successful policies of his first term but will surely improve based on the administration’s experience of what worked and what didn’t. In addition, women won’t have to feel like the leader of an immensely powerful nation is stuck in an era in which women had little to say about the course that their lives took.
Women’s Rights Are Economic Rights
In our tough economic times, it is amazing how often seemingly separate issues -- such as women’s rights and, for example, the overall economic situation -- remain exclusive of each other in political discussions. The fact is that the economy touches every aspect of our lives, so casting a vote solely on economic issues, which Romney promises to turn around quicker and better than Obama has, misses the larger picture. Unwanted pregnancies have the potential to push more families into poverty, putting a strain on even a modest welfare safety net. Thus, stripping women of the ability to decide if and when they will have children, regardless of their financial status, is not in anyone’s interest. Men clearly benefit when women are able to afford contraception and are able to get an abortion, not just on a personal level but on a wider community level. Therefore, calling reproductive rights simply women’s interests is simply inaccurate. What the current conservative-leaning platform -- with Romney at its head -- seems to be missing is that it is not sustainable for only certain groups of people in society to continue in prosperity and blissful ignorance, while everyone else faces increasing hardships.
The choice in this election is between forward-looking policy and wise investing in worthy programs. It’s between cutting what is clearly superfluous spending and indiscriminate cuts for the sake of short-term gains that benefit only a few members of society. Reproductive rights and equal access to them are human rights that are a part of the larger economic landscape. Neglecting to tackle pressing issues and not investing in programs like access to healthcare -- reproductive and otherwise -- climate change, college loan debt and a shrinking middle-class will have dire consequences. So when we go to cast our vote, we should keep in mind this web of dependencies that make up the big picture of society, regardless of our gender.