Is there really a GOP war on women? The Democratic national chairwoman has said so, and the Democratic campaign committees of both houses of Congress are saying so and soliciting signatures on petitions denouncing it. The campaign committee in the House of Representatives claims to have gathered nearly a half-million signatures and raised $1.1 million in its “War on Women” campaign to defeat Republican candidates.
A good place to start is with the latest presidential news conference, when President Obama was asked if he agreed with the chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He avoided a direct yes or no but said “we’ve got a strong story to tell when it comes to women.” He said he didn’t believe women are going to be single-issue voters. He added that “there are millions of strong women around the country who are going to make their own determination about a whole range of issues.”
With the president thus a bit above the fray, the idea of a Republican war against women, if perhaps shopworn and overblown, as some critics say, still has a sound basis.
Take the radical birth-control amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. It would have allowed any employer to refuse insurance coverage of contraception or any other service by citing moral or religious reasons.
Maine’s Republican senators split on the issue. Olympia Snowe was the only Republican to vote against it. Susan Collins voted for it, saying she wasn’t assured “that self-insured faith-based organizations’ religious freedoms are protected.” Another Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, said afterward that she regretted voting for it and would vote against it if she had another chance. (She later rejoined the ranks and joined with Ann Romney in praising their party’s focus on women’s issues.)
The continuing furor over women’s rights was touched off by the Obama administration’s rule that some religious employers must cover birth control in their employees’ health care plans. Catholic bishops and Republican leaders have joined forces in denouncing the move, which carried out a preventive-care requirement of the Affordable Care Act. They pose the dispute as a religious rights issue, while the Democrats and many women call it a health care matter.
Further evidence of a war on women comes from Republican-led state actions aimed at limiting the right to abortion.
A new Texas law requires that a woman seeking an abortion must first endure an ultrasound probe inserted in her vagina so she may listen to the fetus’s heartbeat and watch it on a screen. Republican majorities in 20 other states now have passed similar legislation in an obvious strategy to shock and shame women into avoiding abortion, although some require only abdominal examination. Texas-style extreme laws have been passed in North Carolina and Oklahoma and are being considered in Alabama, Kentucky, Rhode Island and Mississippi.
The women’s vote can be crucial in this fall’s presidential election. Their 2008 vote was decisive — 56 percent for Mr. Obama to 43 percent for John McCain — while the men’s vote broke nearly even.
How women perceive the disputes this time can make all the difference. Democrats hope to increase their women’s edge. Republicans hope to reduce that edge, but their actions at the national and state level could lose women’s votes rather than gain them.