Letty Cottin Pogrebin: Does Birth Control Trump Israel?

By | Oct 16, 2012

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The Republicans, to their everlasting disgrace, have made Israel a wedge issue, reversing decades of political bipartisanship by casting President Obama as inadequately supportive of the Jewish state. This, despite the fact that Israel’s Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak—hardly a dove—recently declared Obama the most supportive American president in Israel’s 64-year history.

Rather than dignify their specious claims by responding in kind, the Democrats ought to hammer home a wedge issue of their own, one that’s actually based on facts. It shouldn’t take a crass, tone-deaf, biological know-nothing like Rep. Todd Akin, inventor of “legitimate rape,” to motivate the Dems to run on the seismic difference between the two parties on matters affecting 53 percent of our population.  The Democrats should make women a wedge issue from now to Election Day.

Mindful that the gender gap could become a chasm, GOP spokesmen have tried to soft-pedal the rampant misogyny of Republican ideologues by wrapping conservative orthodoxy in the cloak of religious piety.

But voters should be reminded that Republican concern for “the unborn” always trumps the well-being of born women who have living, breathing bodies, feelings and families. When Democrats charged Republicans with waging a “war on women,” the phrase struck a nerve in the body politic. That message needs to be honed and reiterated non-stop from now until November 6th.

For some time now, the radical right’s takeover of the Republican party has been reflected in the extremist agendas of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and conservative candidates for the House and Senate. These people would turn back the clock on women’s access to birth control and abortion, even in cases of rape or to save a woman’s life, and would deny medical coverage for gynecological and reproductive health care.

Yes, economic policy is a defining difference between the political parties. But so is women’s freedom and dignity. It boils down to this: The Republican war on women is as threatening to Americans as Paul Ryan’s budget because it is nothing less than a deadly assault on women’s fundamental freedom.

Freedom begins inside one’s own skin. If the state and its public officials control our bodies, if they force us to have children when we’re not ready or able to raise them, if they prevent us from protecting our health as we and our doctors see fit, then women are not free.

Some Democrats fear that an appeal to women’s interests will arouse a male backlash, or they assume that the seven-point gender gap of 2008 can’t be improved upon.  I say women—and men of conscience—should come out punching and drive home the wedge.

In March, when Romney said he was “going to get rid of” Planned Parenthood, he was asked what would happen to the millions of women who depend on its clinics for their health care. “Well, they can go wherever they’d like to go,” said Romney. “This is a free society.”

For women, it will be a lot less free if he wins. Given Romney’s debt to his right-wing base, he’ll doubtless appoint anti-choice Republicans to any Supreme Court vacancies, securing a conservative majority for generations to come. When that Court repeals Roe v. Wade, women won’t stop having abortions; they’ll just start dying again from back-alley procedures, self-injected lye, coat hangers or knitting needles. If you don’t recognize these methods, ask your mother or grandmother.

Nominees for federal appeals court and district court judgeships are also often recommended by members of Congress who belong to the President’s party and espouse his policies—including those affecting women.  One example: Nine of the 11 judges currently sitting in the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals (which covers Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and the Dakotas) were appointed by Republican presidents, six of them by George W. Bush. This is the court that, in July, ruled 7-4 to uphold a South Dakota statute that requires doctors to tell pregnant women who seek abortion that women who abort are at increased risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts—even though experts submitted reams of evidence showing this to be junk science. That’s right: Truth, biology, science be damned; doctors can be forced to tell women things (at least about abortion) that aren’t necessarily so.

Voters should also know vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan’s record on women’s issues.  The Obama campaign responded to the Ryan pick by immediately highlighting his extreme anti-abortion views—for example Ryan told The Weekly Standard in a 2010 interview, “I’m as pro-life as a person gets”—but they bear repeating as often as possible. In the House, Ryan co-sponsored a “personhood bill” that would give full rights to a fertilized egg from the moment of conception (even Mississippians rejected that idea last year) and another that would allow hospitals to refuse to perform an abortion even when the mother’s life is at stake. When asked if he would send women or doctors to prison for abortion, Ryan replied, “If it’s illegal, it’s illegal.”

Under such laws, suffer a miscarriage and you might have to prove it wasn’t self-induced. Undergo in vitro fertilization and you could go to jail for murdering whatever fertilized eggs were discarded after one or two were implanted in your uterus.

Most astounding, there’s contraception.  The Republicans handed us a big fat wedge issue when they thawed this one out of aspic. Though 67 percent of American voters opposed the measure, Romney and Ryan both declared their support for the failed Blunt amendment, which would have allowed employers to deny health insurance coverage (i.e. birth control) based on a “moral conviction.”

Anyone whose moral convictions include freedom of conscience and bodily integrity ought to speak up for women loud and clear and own this issue proudly.


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