Abortion & Reproductive Rights.

The role that reproductive rights played in the 2012 election outcome was significant. Republicans repeatedly tried to minimize its importance, claiming repeatedly that women in particular, young and old, cared far more about the economy. Fifty-five percent of the female vote and sixty percent of the youth vote went to President Obama because he got it right. Reproductive rights are as much an economic issue for women as they are a private, personal matter of no concern to any elected official.



Obama’s position connected with women of all ages, but many men also paid attention. While men may not have the same level of personal or economic concern about contraception or abortion, they do have concerns about extremism and privacy.

Let’s start with abortion. When the Republican Party included the goal for a “Personhood Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution in their platform during the 2012 convention, the party seemed more like a nightmare fringe group than a political party promising economic policies to support the American Dream. Their position clearly did not attract votes for Republican candidates. Twelve of the sixteen Senate candidates supported by the Tea Party faction of the party lost. That is a loud statement.

Even with such remarkable losses, since the election, several prominent Republicans have hit the airwaves with theories that they lost votes because they were not conservative enough. Some have gone on to say that had the Republican Party more pro-actively promoted their strong pro-life position, they would have attracted more women.  The president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List stated, “Voters overwhelmingly disagree with the extreme positions on abortion taken by President Obama and the Democrats. [T]he Republican Party…never highlighted this vulnerability.” Really.



It is time for all politicians to get out of the abortion discussion. It is a medical procedure regulated by the same licensing and oversight authorities as other medical procedures. In some states, there are additional unnecessary laws in place.  It is the only medical procedure I am aware of in which politicians meddle so shamelessly, primarily Republicans.

Due largely to religious and moral beliefs, there will never be consensus on abortion. The only objective way public policy can view abortion is through science and medicine period. Any attempt politicians make to impose their religious views about abortion on voters will ultimately be a loss to their electability and credibility. There are indeed disagreements within the scientific and medical communities about abortion. However, even the most ardent anti-abortion biological scientist or doctor will ultimately acknowledge truth once s/he removes religious leanings or preferences.

Specific to the Personhood Amendment, I will acknowledge that life does begin at conception; every life form has a beginning. But to consider a zygote, the cell formed after ova and sperm unite, deserving of legal and moral status is not realistic. Imagine a world in which a zygote has legal status. The stage would be set to arrest pregnant women for any behavior that could potentially bring harm to the zygote. Medical providers would take on law enforcement roles. Never mind thinking about what civil and criminal courts would have to establish just to process the volume of cases. This is not nonsensical thinking. If legal status is granted to the content of a pregnant womb, be it a zygote, embryo, or fetus, if a law is in place it will be enforced. This would be extreme by all reasonable legal and moral standards but there it is, in the Republican platform.

The despicable references to rape, and its connection to abortion, by at least nine too many Republican candidates during the 2012 campaign season has kept people on both sides of the issue particularly attentive this presidential election year. Many of us were in disbelief to hear Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin say that pregnancy resulting from rape is “really rare” because “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” Not to be outdone, Indiana Republican Senate candidate later stated during a debate that he opposes abortion even if the result of rape because “it is something God intended.” Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh, who was seeking to be reelected, believed that enough technology is available today that there are no longer any circumstances in which pregnancy would put a woman’s health or life in jeopardy.

The extreme right-to-life view has always held that rape is unacceptable in any circumstance. A handful holding the most extreme position will accept abortion to save the life of the mother but they dangerously define “life of the mother.”  Just how close to death must a woman be before she can have an abortion? If the Personhood Amendment is ever to be taken seriously, it will be critical to motivate all abortion opponents to completely drop allowances for rape, incest, and life of the mother.

It is arguable that the Republican candidates this year who connected rape to abortion were actually engaged in a policy strategy to begin the process of motivating their base towards a campaign mode for the Personhood Amendment.

When Akin said, “legitimate rape,” he was actually introducing voters to the concept of false reports of rape and therefore we should all be suspicious when women claim they became pregnant from rape – they might be lying. Like other crimes, there is a percentage of false reporting of rape. Likewise, there is a percentage of underreporting. Law enforcement officers and crime statisticians typically believe the underreporting if far more significant. Regardless, if Republicans can convince enough people that there are distinctions between the types of rape that occur, over time they will alter how pregnancy resulting rape is perceived.

Akin’s undeniably incorrect and woefully incompetent remark that “the female body has ways to shut the whole thing down” implied that women are so stressed during rape they can’t get pregnant. Anti-abortion zealots of his ilk took a concept from some infertility literature that suggests that high stress levels might affect a woman’s ability to conceive and, therefore, since rape is stressful, it is unlikely conception can occur. Pathetic, for sure, but, think about it – to the uninformed, leaning pro-life voter, if this message is repeated often enough, it makes is easier to deny abortion to rape victims. It slowly brings such voters to the “personhood” at conception philosophy necessary to mount a campaign for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Mourdock’s contention that God intends every life even if it begins violently was an appeal to the devoutly religious who oppose abortion but will allow in cases of rape, incest, or life of the mother.  Yep, throw God in there to tear at the convictions in the hearts of the deeply religious. A fair number of voters respond favorably to difficult issues when God is invoked. Romney obviously counted on that to happen with Mourdock albeit, like the marketing of anything, it takes time and saturation before it is an effective strategy. Although Akin was denounced by many in the Republican Party, Mourdock was quickly forgiven for his “inartful” articulation of belief. The only difference between the two men, really, was that Mourdock artfully used God.

When Walsh touted the technology available today, chances are the only technology he really has any familiarity with are ultrasound images that are now quite capable of showing embryonic and fetal development in multidimensional forms. Anti-abortion organizations have long used such imagery to imply that the development so clearly depicted in the images is the equivalent of viable life. Each pregnancy that jeopardizes the life, or health, of a woman is unique. There simply is not some master one-size-fits-all technology available to change the circumstances. Unfortunately, though, Walsh suggesting that there is might convince a certain group of voters. After all, a Congressman is expected to speak only about things he knows to be fact. In this particular case, Walsh minimized the incidence of maternal death due to pregnancy with the tone of his statement alone. Nope. We should not trust people when they say that abortion must be available to save the life of the mother.

The Walsh misstatement caught my attention for another reason. If one were to look through all the anti-abortion rhetoric of the campaigns throughout the year, language about “health” of the mother has not been referenced much. Health of the mother and life of the mother are not interchangeable. How convenient. Before you know it, the Republican Party will have successfully convinced enough voters that rape is not always rape, every pregnancy is a directive from God, and technology can ensure that all women, even the unhealthiest, survive pregnancy.

All three of these men lost. For that, we can all be grateful.  But make no mistake about it, their words were not as off the cuff as many Republicans would have the public believe. The Personhood Amendment was officially sanctioned as a goal of the Republican Party this year. The strategy to begin developing support for it has to begin somehow. Why not have a few candidates start the process?

Equally important to the women and youth vote this year are contraceptives. The February 6, 2012 online edition of U.S. News and World Report had an opinion piece by Laura Chapin, “Mitt Romeny and the GOP’s War on Birth Control.” Chapin did a great job spelling out the challenge Romney, and really all Republican candidates, would have appealing to women voters. From various credible sources, she noted that ninety-nine percent of women use contraception at some point during their reproductive years, ninety-eight percent of Catholic women use contraception that is banned by the Church, and seventy-seven percent of Americans favor insurance coverage for the birth control pill. Chapin ended with an admonition that the Republicans were on the wrong side of the issue with the voting public.

In 2012, contraception should not be an issue at all for anyone. It was an issue indeed, supposedly because the Affordable Health Care Act (“Obamacare”) required employers to include contraception in their insurance plans. Churches were exempt from the requirement; it was reasonable to assume that churches hire people of their own faith who subscribe to the doctrines of the church. Therefore, if the church opposed contraception, it was reasonable to exempt them from the requirement. Church-affiliated employers, on the other hand, were not exempt. This meant that employers such as Notre Dame University or Catholic Charities that hire a diverse range of people would be required to include contraception coverage. The Republicans quickly tried to frame the requirement as an assault on religious liberty.  They refused to consider that to exempt church-affiliated employers from the requirement was actually imposing religion on the numerous atheists, agnostics, or followers of other religions who were employees. It apparently did not occur to the Republicans that they were discriminating against women.

A truthful review of the statements from the Republican Party and its candidates will reveal that their real interest was imposing their own religious ideology and controlling women. They were also fighting funding for Planned Parenthood healthcare services and Title X.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around seventy-five percent of U.S. counties have at least one clinic (many operating through Planned Parenthood) receiving Title X funds. The funds are dedicated to providing comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services to men and women with a priority place on providing services to low-income people. Any reasonable person can see that if the contraception controversy during this election year was only about religious liberty, there would not also be a fight over Title X funding.

It has always been ironic that the Republicans maintain an anti-abortion platform at the same time they seek to decrease funding for programs that assist children and families. By now holding the position that they do not support pregnancy prevention under the guise of religious liberty, they are actually making their views about the role of women in society very clear. They have transformed themselves from a party focused on economic policy to a zealous religiosity-imposing fringe group.

If any rational Republicans exist these days, the smartest thing they can do is share with their colleagues the significant role of reproductive rights in the 2012 election. They need not ask a single Republican to change their position to the pro-choice view. They only need to take a page from the playbook of Grover Norquist and persuade them to sign a pledge to stay completely out of any discussion or legislation about reproductive rights.

Americans – and the courts – decided long ago that contraception is a personal issue, abortion must remain safe and legal, and they don’t like it when politicians focus too much on our private lives.