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Women Fight Back



photograph by Bob Capazzo

We believe it is not an overstatement that this November election may prove to be one of the most significant in our country’s history. Seldom have our two parties been so philosophically polarized over fundamental economic and social issues. At a time when both our domestic and the global economies are deeply depressed—with the United States and other industrialized countries facing unparalleled economic crises—the path taken by the next congress and administration in addressing our own impending “fiscal cliff” of January 1, 2013, and its aftermath may well have a lasting effect on the future of America.

The two presidential candidates come from worlds apart: Mitt Romney, multimillionaire, personifies the new class of super-rich and, according to Liberal detractors (the 99 percent, if you will), represents all that is wrong and unfair in our capitalist system and tax code. He is confident that better business practices can restore our economy; and Barack Obama, of mixed racial and cultural background, the penultimate populist, began his career as a political organizer in the working class wards of Chicago. It was there that he helped found Acorn, later suspended following accusations of widespread voter fraud. The two candidates and their party platforms are poles apart on budget issues (who to tax and what to cut), on Obamacare, and on which will best serve the “middle class,” however they define that group.

What makes the choice difficult for many moderate Republicans who consider themselves fiscal conservatives is the total capitulation of party leadership to the evangelical far right, with its obsession with establishing a total ban on abortion for any reason—including “forceful rape,” incest and the life of the mother—and its denial of a woman’s right to choose. The reversal of Roe v. Wade continues to be a plank of the Republican Party, and the commitment to defund Planned Parenthood has been fully endorsed by Romney. The Catholic Bishops, as expected, have redoubled their efforts to impose on the population at large the Vatican’s dictates on the issue of abortion, and to maintain their opposition to contraception, even though most Catholics ignore this particular directive.

The right to life philosophy of the Catholic Church and its evangelical Protestant allies has created a moral divide and an unfortunate melding of religion and politics. The medieval decree that Catholic priests must be celibate males has, as we know, cost the church dearly in money and moral standing, and has no theological basis. There is a suspicion that there may also be a pragmatic basis for the Vatican to maintain its strict prohibition of contraception and abortion, perhaps in the belief that “it is easier to breed them than convert them.”

The economy will certainly be a major factor in deciding the outcome in November, but something new has been added to this election—women. This huge constituency has been given short shrift in past elections, but it may be responsible for casting the deciding vote this time around. The issue of women’s rights is at the heart of the Republican dilemma, and Romney, having reversed his original position on abortion when running for Governor of Massachusetts, capitulated to the extreme right and sacrificed women and their rights on his road to nomination. Republican policy makers apparently believe the female half of our population is unconcerned about reproductive health and is without a voice.

Well, women are turning out in strength to claim their rights, and the Democrats are taking full advantage of the Republican embarrassment. Speaking at the Democratic convention was none other than Georgetown law student Sandra Flukes, who had gained overwhelming public sympathy after being demonized and denigrated by Rush Limbaugh for her position on contraception. Joining her at the podium were Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL. Republicans were further embarrassed by Congressman Todd Akin of Missouri, whose insanely bigoted “legitimate rape” remarks provided support for the belief that the Republicans are waging a war on women.

It is hard to imagine a more poorly conceived strategy for winning an election than that being pursued by the Republican Party. However, there are voices of reason within the party. Greenwich resident Susan Bevan, cochair of the Republican Majority for Choice (RMC), remarks, “We know the majority of our population, including Republicans, is pro-choice. The problem we have is a self-perpetuating system of electing convention delegates to serve on the platform committee who are not representative of the party as a whole.” Adds her cochair Candy Straight: “The amount of time Congress spends on these issues is not commensurate with the economic problems we’re facing, and it’s alienating younger voters.” RMC Executive Director Kelly Ferguson points out that “the Republican platform is bad strategy and detrimental to candidates such as Andrew Roraback [District 5 candidate for Congress].”

The Republican position on women’s issues is rife with contradictions and ironies. Here is the party that supposedly champions limited government and non-interference with the private sector. But what is more private than a woman’s decision to have or not have a child and to control the size of the family she must care for and afford? According to the Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health, almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned; and if contraceptives were not available, the increase in unplanned pregnancies would result in some 400,000 more abortions per year. Defunding Planned Parenthood, which provides education and contraceptives to those that can’t afford them, is counterproductive and would mean more, not fewer, abortions.

Meanwhile, so called pro-life forces in a number of states are trying to introduce “personhood” laws designed to make abortion, and even some forms of contraception, illegal. Here in Connecticut we should be proud of the fact that the constitutional right to use contraceptives was finally established by the Supreme Court’s decision in the 1965 case of Griswold v. Connecticut. Prior to that, it was illegal even for married couples to buy them here. We should also note that Senator Prescott Bush of Greenwich was treasurer of Planned Parenthood in 1947 during its first national capital campaign. His son, Texas Congressman George H. W. Bush, was such a strong advocate of contraception that House colleagues nicknamed him “Rubbers.” That was until politics and his run for Vice President under Reagan forced him into the other corner.

Today, though a lifelong registered Republican, I find it’s not easy being a Republican. I have to ask myself, “Is this my party? Is it the party of Lincoln? Will it ever return to its roots?” Maybe, just maybe, women can help bring it there.

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