During his concession speech in Michigan on Tuesday night, Rick Santorum reminded his audience that, within a brief period, he’s gone from virtual unknown to viable contender for the GOP presidential nomination.
“A month ago they didn’t know who we were,” he said. “But they do now!”
The crowd went wild. Santorum basked in their enthusiasm.
And he’s right. People finally do know who he is. Especially women. And judging by the way women turned out for Mitt Romney in Michigan, they’re horrified.
Before February, the general electorate, with the exception of Pennsylvania voters and the gay community, knew very little about Santorum’s hardline religiosity. But it’s no surprise that doubling down on medieval attitudes toward sex will turn some heads.
Couple such incendiary views with recent vaginal ultrasound bills, all-male birth control panels, and attacks on Planned Parenthood’s breast cancer screenings, and it seems that women rightly felt ambushed. A shameless, flagrantly misogynistic assault on their basic choices and liberties was occurring, and Santorum was its posterboy.
In response, women helped Romney eke out a win in Michigan by giving him a five-point advantage. (Men only favored him by one point.)
But before that, women were fighting a personhood amendment in Mississippi and vaginal probes in Virginia. (There’s another personhood fight coming up in Oklahoma.) In fact, it appears the culture-war revival has only reminded women to keep supporting democrats; they’ve been moving pretty steadily toward Barack Obama ‘s camp recently.
So it seems counterintuitive, then, that Republicans are currently pushing so hard against a fairly popular contraceptive mandate found in the Affordable Care Act. Even if their plan is to rebrand the fight as a more thoughtful one over religious liberty, haven’t they gotten the hint that targeting women’s basic reproductive health needs is a loser?
Plus, Republicans, including Mike Huckabee, have supported similar mandates in the past. Twenty-two states adopted such laws after insurers started covering Viagra, according to the Los Angeles Times. The laws boasted bipartisan support, and many were signed into effect by Republican governors.
Nevertheless, the Senate will vote today on Senator Roy Blunt’s (R-Mo.) Amendment, which is attached to a transportation bill. If passed, the measure would essentially dissolve Obama’s mandate by letting employers deny women certain types of health care. All they would have to say? “It’s against my religion!”
This comes despite Obama’s proposed compromise: Women employees could deal directly with the insurance provider, who will incur the cost, thus freeing religious organizations, including religious hospitals and universities, from paying for the coverage. (Not even Huckabee provided exemptions for religiously affiliated hospitals and universities.)
But that wasn’t enough for some.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has thrown its support behind the Blunt amendment, issued a statement Feb. 10 saying the only complete solution would be to “rescind the mandate of these objectionable services.”
To make such theocratic dribble more palatable to women, and the public at large, conservatives pretend the mandate of such “objectionable services” infringes upon religious liberty and the First Amendment.
However women should be all too familiar with such political maneuverings. We are, after all, the political football conservatives like to toss around whenever the base needs an energy boost.
So, we know this isn’t about religious freedom at all.
On one hand, it’s about dismantling Obamacare. And if that’s done at the expense of women, well, it seems Republicans think they should just take one for their team.
Extremists also see an opportunity to roll back gains women have made in the fight to control their bodies and live without discrimination. Denying women the freedom to choose what legally permitted healthcare is best for them, and instead giving that privilege to employers, is nothing more than paternalistic retrograde sexism.
Balancing the rights of women and men with religious liberty should be the goal, not denying women rights because a religion exists.
The biggest idea at stake here seems to be the notion that health care is a human right. After all, what could demonstrate this more than a debate in which women’s autonomy hangs in the balance? Without the right to control their fertility, women are at a huge disadvantage pure and simple.
Hopefully the women in the U.S. Senate, no matter their individual political persuasion, consider the ripple effects today’s vote could have.
Hopefully they band together. Taking such a stand in Washington, especially on the first day of women’s history month, will serve as a powerful symbol against the forces that try to limit women’s choices and liberties everywhere.