For days now, the political media has been focused on allegations of sexual harassment levied against Herman Cain. While the facts and implications of the scandal are coming into focus, Cain isn’t the only Republican hopeful who should be answering for his anti-woman behavior.
It should be of little surprise that women aren’t front of mind for either frontrunner. If the 2012 elections mirror 2010, then Republicans will be relying on the same male voters who led the charge to put Republicans back in power during the off-cycle. In those midterms, men were not only more loyal to the GOP, they were fired up and ready to vote. Women, by contrast, utterly lacked enthusiasm, leading the New York Times to theorize that men’s “anger may be more motivating than the sense of hopelessness expressed by women.” Now, Republicans are giving women something to get angry about.
Prior to Cain’s bizarre press conference meant to address the allegations, fellow Republican hopeful Jon Huntsman implored Cain to “get the information out and get it out in total.” Huntsman, appearing on NBC’S Meet the Press, said, “we’ve got some real issues to discuss in this campaign and this is taking all the bandwidth out of the discussion.”
But does it really behoove Republicans to discuss the “real issues”?
Democrats certainly don’t think so. In fact, they are seizing upon media interest surrounding the Cain story to begin a larger conversation about what the frontrunners’ policies would mean for American women.
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, also appearing on Meet the Press, accused Republicans of “a huge assault on women’s rights.” There is, he said, “an extreme right-wing that has taken over that is going to make it very difficult for anybody in a general election in the Republican Party to be a centrist.”
That overall assault on women’s rights includes “personhood” amendments considered in states across the country characterizing “life” as “beginning at conception” and qualifying a fertilized human egg as a legal person. These measures would effectively ban various forms of contraception including IUD and the morning-after pill. They would also ban all abortions, including cases of rape, incest, or instances where the mother’s life is in jeopardy. And in a ironic twist, it would prohibit in-vitro fertilization.
Mississippi recently shot down one such ballot provision by a solid margin. But the issue is still making its way into the national debate; former Governor Mitt Romney has said that he will eliminate Title X family planning programs, and that he “absolutely” supports the concept of a constitutional ban on abortion modeled after personhood.
“A leading candidate for the GOP nomination for president is on the record in favor of a law that would classify literally all abortions — and even many forms of birth control — as murder,” DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard wrote of Romney in a letter to supporters. “To be clear: This is the most radical position any of the Republican candidates have taken on this issue, and may be the most radical position any of them have taken on any substantive issue in the race for the nomination so far.”
Poll after poll indicates that women swing voters are prioritizing bread and butter issues like jobs, the economy, healthcare and education over “social” issues like choice, immigration and gay rights.
But “personhood” initiatives and cuts to family planning programs aren’t just about reproductive freedom. This is a window into what the GOP and Mitt Romney represent and who would be protected in their America. By supporting such initiatives, Romney is telling women voters and their families that their freedom and rights over their own bodies — the freedom to protect one’s self from unintended pregnancy through safe and effective birth control, and the freedom to make the sad and impossible decision to terminate a life-threatening pregnancy — is of less importance to him than winning.
Unfortunately for American families, and the women who head them, an attack on choice doesn’t get the same media attention as four blondes and a pizza executive. But, there is no question that Romney’s support of policies coercing women into life-threatening situations is harassment.