“Women will decide this presidential election.” We’ve heard this over and over again, from political pundits and presidential candidates on both sides. But this isn’t just a talking point. The Center of American Women and Politics reported that in the 2008 election, more women voted than men by about eight percentage points. And in this election, the stakes for women’s health have never been higher.
It’s hard to believe that in the year 2012, there is an actual political debate over whether employers have to provide coverage for a woman’s birth control. It’s hard to believe that there are politicians who are working to reverse Roe v. Wade, though abortion has been legal in this country for over 30 years. It is also mind-blowing to think about presidential candidates who have promised to defund Planned Parenthood if elected.
Democrats call this the “Republican War on Women.” Conservatives claim they need to get rid of federal programs like Planned Parenthood to help balance the budget, yet Planned Parenthood receives only $75 million from the federal government. Compare that to the annual $700 billion that the U.S spends annually on defense, and you’ve got a more serious argument of where the cuts to balance our budget should be coming from.
In addition to promised policy transformations that would harm women, there have been a rash of ridiculous statements made by public figures this year that have shown just how little our society has actually come in our fight for women’s equality. In February, the House GOP’s all-male hearing on mandatory coverage of birth control prompted Sandra Fluke, a law student at Georgetown University, to testify at the Democratic hearing on the same issue. In her remarks, she shared the story of a friend who had polycystic ovary syndrome and whose medication, which cost over $100 per month, was not covered by Georgetown’s student healthcare plan because the medication counted as a contraceptive. In response, talk show host Rush Limbaugh called Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” on national talk radio. A few months ago, the Missouri Republican candidate for Senate, Todd Akin, raised national concern from women activists when, while explaining his stance on abortion, he stated, “From what I understand from doctors, pregnancy from rape is really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Not only are these incidents extremely upsetting to women everywhere, but they also undermine all the work and advocacy that has been put forth by women for the past century. When it comes to women’s health, these issues should be left to us to decide, not men who are stuck in the 1950’s. That’s why it’s so important for women to vote in this election. And when we vote, we have to power to choose between those who would advocate for women’s rights, and those who would work to take them away.