Commentary: Ending the GOP's 'war on women'

The Kansas City StarSeptember 3, 2012 

SANCHEZ MARY KC

Mary Sanchez is a columnist with the Kansas City Star.

MBR — Kansas City Star/MCT

Ladies, remember what your mothers told you about men who regard women as sex objects? They're no good.

Keep that in mind when pondering the Republican Party platform this year and all those heated conversations about the "war on women."

Why is so much prime time attention being paid to GOP dogma on contraception, pregnancy and now rape? Because after years of using the abortion issue as a bludgeon to beat Democrats, the Republicans are coming in for well-deserved blowback.

They have fought strenuously to defund Planned Parenthood, to pass laws that treat abortion patients cruelly, to regulate the procedure into oblivion and to use the issue as a monkey wrench to shut down legislation that has nothing to do with it (the ploy almost succeeded in the fight against President Obama's health care reform bill).

Now comes an obscure congressman running for the Senate in Missouri — spouting the sort of loony pseudoscience about rape and pregnancy that is typical in American anti-abortion circles, who makes an honest but revealing mistake in word choice, and all hell breaks loose.

The elephants are now in full stampede away from Rep. Todd Akin, but only because his insane remarks about “legitimate rape” have been noticed. Bad move. Now as the GOP faithful gather in Tampa, the party will be forced to deal with the fact that its vice presidential candidate is one step away from Akin on abortion.

Along with Akin, Rep. Paul Ryan was an original co-sponsor of legislation that introduced “forcible rape” into the political lexicon. Their “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” bill thankfully died without passage. But it would have redefined abortion rights based on absurd distinctions between kinds of rape, with statutory rape and date rape being addressed differently than the more rare violent attacks by strangers.

More than 200 other House Republicans voted for it, along with a handful of Democrats. All who supported this outrageous pettifogging of something as serious as rape need to be held accountable.

Still, if women concentrate on these outrages alone, we will fail to address other crucial women’s issues: equal pay, freedom from workplace discrimination, access to health care, a working social safety net, and a healthy Social Security and Medicare system, so that we can come to the end of our lives in dignity.

Mitt Romney repeatedly ducked when asked about the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a sore subject for conservatives. Obama signed the wage discrimination bill into law as his first act as president. Eventually, Romney conceded that he wouldn’t try to repeal it.

Nevertheless, if elected president, Romney will have the power to fill vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court. Recall that the Ledbetter Act was passed in response to a ruling by right-leaning justices. Citing an absurd interpretation of the statute of limitations, they denied the courageous Ledbetter the right to sue her employer for past pay discrimination, despite evidence in her favor.

If Romney and Ryan win, look for them to cut programs that affect single mothers disproportionately, such as Head Start, school lunches and food stamps. Also expect no progress toward comprehensive policies on paid sick and family leave.

This year’s election ought to be about women getting respect. We deserve to be spoken to by politicians in ways that encompass all of us — head to toe, mind and body, birth to old age.

And yet, for all this talk of “war” and treating women as victims, here’s a point people are overlooking: In 2012, women are competing to win more seats in Congress than ever before.

That’s right. The Center for Women in Politics keeps such tallies. And it notes that, so far, 110 Democrats and 44 Republican women have won primaries and are up for seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.

More female candidates are on ballots than any year in American history.

How they fare in November, and then in Congress, just might bring an end to hostilities in the “war on women.”

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