Supporting Women

Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch ran a piece by Victoria Cobb, President of The Family Foundation, entitled “Courting Women.”  In this piece, Ms. Cobb asserts that “…the ‘all sex, birth control and abortion all the time’ message just doesn’t play with serious women with any life experience.  Women who have experienced reality beyond their teenage years and college know nothing comes free, not even promises of birth control.”

Ms. Cobb is making a sweeping assumption about what makes a serious woman, and what constitutes life experience.  She also ignores the relevant facts:  according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, over three-quarters (76%) of all unplanned pregnancies occur to women in their teens and twenties.  While dismissing young women, Ms. Cobb seems to believe that all “serious, smart” women over the age of 25 will have a life experience similar to her own, which includes marriage, planned children (unless she has simply lucked into having only three children, rather than five or ten or twelve), and enough wealth to afford her own birth control: “Unlike Sandra Fluke, we’ve discovered we can handle $11 per month for birth control easier than losing more of our paychecks to cover the spiraling cost of Obamacare.”

It is the “we” in this statement that troubles me; it is almost a royal we—condescending to any woman who disagrees with Ms. Cobb politically and to any woman whose life would be vastly improved by free access to birth control.  It is not I, nor Ms. Cobb, nor perhaps most of the readers of the Times Dispatch, who will benefit most directly from the birth control component of the Affordable Care Act.  The women who will benefit most are young, poor, and uninsured.  The Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology recently published a study suggesting that access to free birth control leads to dramatically lower abortion rates.  Since The Family Foundation clearly supports legislation aimed at reducing abortion, I would think Ms. Cobb would joyfully embrace a policy that has this result.

Unfortunately, Ms. Cobb not only denigrates free access to birth control while ignoring its role in reducing abortions.  She also attacks Planned Parenthood, which is much more than an abortion provider:  “The voter who is going to decide this election checks her facts. No matter how many times the president says Planned Parenthood does mammograms, she researches or calls any abortion center and finds out that in fact they don’t do mammograms—and moreover cannot legally do them because they are not licensed to do so.”  This statement is a classic example of using facts for spin.  It is true that healthcare practitioners at Planned Parenthood clinics don’t do mammograms; it is also true that these practitioners perform gynecological exams, including breast exams, and refer women to other facilities to have mammograms performed.  Many women rely on Planned Parenthood as their sole source of healthcare, and would not receive a referral (and therefore a mammogram) if these services were discontinued.  Thus, Mitt Romney’s push to defund Planned Parenthood would affect the healthcare of millions of women who get these referrals, as well as other healthcare services (such as STD screenings) from the organization.

Ms. Cobb continues her attack on women who disagree with her politically with this statement about invasive ultrasounds:  “…the true profile of the female voter who will decide this election has already discovered simple facts, such as when they became pregnant and chose life or abortion, in both cases a routine ultrasound was done for the safety of the child, themselves or both.”  I suppose I must not be a “female voter who will decide this election,” since of my two pregnancies, one included an early ultrasound—of the invasive type that was proposed by the Virginia legislature earlier this year—and one did not include an ultrasound until several months into the pregnancy (this ultrasound, to determine both the health and gender of my son, was non-invasive).  These are the simple facts of my experience—and having had an early, invasive ultrasound—by my own consent and for the health of a child I had planned for—informed my passionate objection to forcing a woman to undergo this procedure unnecessarily.  The legislation aimed at forcing women who are considering abortion to undergo an invasive ultrasound was, at its core, an attempt at emotional manipulation:  anti-choice voters and legislators supported this procedure in the secret hopes that a woman would realize the error of her ways and fall in love with an embryo, while the question of the father’s role in this unwanted child’s life—and whether or not he should fall in love with an embryo—was left unasked and unanswered.

Although Ms. Cobb spends much of her article on issues surrounding reproductive rights, her main point is that those rights should not solely determine a woman’s vote.  She is right about one thing:  women have minds as well as bodies, and we should take issue with any person who insists that courting our vote means ignoring our opinions on the economy, foreign policy, or any other serious political issue.  Where she errs is in missing the connection between our reproductive rights and every other right we have.  The societal gains that Ms. Cobb lists—from female entrepreneurship to female militarism—are more available, to a wider range of women from a broader socioeconomic background, when reproductive freedom is guaranteed.  And having more women living their fullest lives while raising only the children they want to raise is good for everyone—men, women, and children, rich, poor, and in the middle.

Although I fully support the Affordable Care Act—which covers women’s preventive healthcare such as mammograms, screenings for cervical cancer, prenatal care, and other services—my support for President Obama and Tim Kaine, as a woman with a mind as well as a body, isn’t just about female reproductive rights.  It is also about the economy, which will improve when we pass laws like the Paycheck Fairness Act to ensure that women are paid a dollar for every dollar a man is paid, rather than 77 cents.  This act was blocked by Republicans earlier this year—if you want to talk about the economy and women and politics, let’s talk about that.  Let’s talk about how businesses improve financially when women comprise 30 percent of their boards, and how President Obama’s policies will encourage more women, from more backgrounds, to achieve those positions of power.

Although Ms. Cobb might disagree, I believe that smart, serious women—women who will decide this election—stand on both sides of the political spectrum.  However, I believe that while both parties are courting women, only one is supporting them.  The policies that will move more women forward so that more of us can reach our full potential are going to be shaped by President Obama and those who stand with him, not by a party that is increasingly vocal about its misogyny and seeks to block female power—reproductive and otherwise—at every turn.

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