“Ann Romney never worked a day in her life.”
-Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen
“A Georgetown law student is a ‘slut’ to want a health care plan to cover birth control pills.”
-Rush Limbaugh, American radio talk show host and political commentator
There have been many arguments on gender issues in this election season. And it seems new ones are on the way. Many Americans, and particularly American women, are wondering why issues such as equal pay, domestic violence, access to healthcare, contraception and abortion can still stir up controversy in one of the most developed countries in the world.
Personally, it’s hard for me to believe that equal pay is still a problem in the US. Last week I was with Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-NJ) at the Peace Island Institute Award Ceremony. “In every field, at every level of education, men earn more than women and we want to change that,” Ms. Weinberg told me. When you check the statistics, according to a report by the American Association of University Women, “In nearly every line of work, women face a pay gap in the US. Men make 23 percent more than women do.”
These social issues are always divisive and inflammatory in the US and they are great for raising money. The Planned Parenthood Action Fund started an advertising campaign last Wednesday in swing states, saying Mitt Romney is the wrong choice for women. The commercial will be run on broadcast and cable television in West Palm Beach, Florida, Des Moines, Iowa, northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., and accuses Romney of wanting to deny women birth control, abortions and equal pay by using his own words against him.
For example: “When Mitt Romney says ‘Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that,’ Romney is saying he’ll deny women the birth control and cancer screenings they depend on,” the ad says.
Also, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll that was released last Thursday, President Barack Obama has a strong lead in the state of New York. Fifty-six percent of voters in New York State said they’d vote for Obama, while 31 percent said they’d support Romney. The numbers came a few months after an Obama administration policy that would require religiously affiliated institutions to include contraception coverage in healthcare plans.
Birth control is always a controversial issue in US politics. However, since February it’s been a common topic of discussion following President Obama’s administration’s ruling requiring certain Catholic institutions, like hospitals and universities, to offer health insurance covering birth control. However, even though that ruling angered many Catholic Church groups, who oppose birth control, the Obama administration subsequently amended the policy to mandate insurance companies -- not the institutions -- to offer contraception free of charge to the women they employ.
The other hot topic is abortion even though with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, it has been legal in the US in every state since 1973. However, it’s still an issue in the 2012 election since Republicans want to ban or at least to reduce the legal period of time in which abortions can be performed. Last Thursday, the House of Representatives held a vote to ban abortions based on the sex of the fetus but fell short of banning it.
Issues concerning access to healthcare are very important for American women, too. Last year, the House Republican majority wanted to pass bills to remove funding for Planned Parenthood and Title X, the federal program that provides abortion, birth control, lifesaving screening for breast and cervical cancer and other preventive care. So if American women vote for Romney, they have to accept the risk of losing out on federal funding to access these services.
Domestic violence is another complicated issue that American women have to deal with. Last month, the Senate approved a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that was designed to protect victims of stalking and domestic and sexual abuse, and to put the perpetrators on trial. In May, the House Judiciary Committee approved a limited version of a reauthorization of the bill that excludes gay people, Native Americans, students and immigration abuse victims whose status is dependent on a spouse. Since some Republicans say this bill is a scam, to approve it, the Senate needs to find an alternative reconciliation process on domestic violence issues.
Recent polls indicate that Obama is slightly ahead of Romney among women. Democrats have tried to utilize Romney’s more conservative stance on women’s issues and Romney has responded by focusing on economic issues faced by women in the US, especially job losses. Only time will tell what the political impact will be of this fight for women voters, but it’s obvious that given the relevant political context it will affect more than just the results of the 2012 election.