Are Reproductive Rights Not an Important Issue to Women in this Election Year?

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Dr. George Tiller is a saint. Despite three decades of harassment - legal and illegal, such as when someone shot him in both arms, Dr. Tiller continues to provide abortions for women carrying severely damaged fetuses or whose lives are endangered by their pregnancies. Like Dr. Tiller, Dr. Bernard Slepian and Dr. David Gunn are heroes, too. These men died while helping women use their legal right to an abortion. They are not the only ones, either. The National Abortion Federation has a list of names of those injured or killed, documenting the murders or attempted murders of doctors, clinic workers, and by-standers by those who claim to be defending life. I suppose if John McCain wins the presidential election and overturns Roe v. Wade, as he said he would like to do, this will resolve the problem of violence against clinic workers since there will be no clinics in many states. Of course, this also means that women in many states will have even less access to a health procedure than they currently do. (In 2005, 87 percent of all U.S. counties lacked an abortion provider; 35 percent of American women live in those areas. Almost 25 percent of women requiring an abortion travel over 50 miles to obtain the procedure.)

Given the obstacles that many people must overcome to obtain and/or provide abortions, reproductive rights are always in my top three issues when I evaluate a candidate. In the past, I've explained that I usually find that candidates who are pro-choice tend to support a ranges of other issues that are important to me, like ending the war in Iraq, the environment, fixing our social safety net by ending tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, and expanding health care coverage. Thus I assume that other progressive women are like me, and they prioritize reproductive rights as an election issue.

It turns out that I may be wrong about the role reproductive rights plays in this election. My 100% anecdotal evidence is derived from a writing class in which I am enrolled. Comprised of 12 individuals - nine of whom are women, and 11 of whom are admitted liberals/progressives - we went around the room and named our top three issues in this election. Nearly everyone said the war in Iraq, the environment, and health care/health insurance. Only one person said reproductive rights. Yes, that person was me. Call me Harpy McHarperson for focusing on the issue, but I am scared.

Maybe people don't prioritize reproductive rights as an issue in this election because they think neither candidate really opposes them. For example, Planned Parenthood produced a short (and entertaining) video about McCain's track record on the issues vs. Bush's, and most people were unaware that McCain is even more extreme than Bush in some instances. For example, he does not believe that insurance companies should be required to cover birth control. (And if you think that this won't happen, the movement to ban the pill is well underway. Allowing insurance to deny prescription drug coverage to women for ideological purposes is only step one.)

When people learn what a candidate's position on reproductive rights is, does that change their perception of the candidate? (If yes, I'm assuming this means that the reproductive rights issue is actually very important to voters, but they don't realize it because they don't think that the election will jeopardize them.) Arianna Huffington at The Huffington Post reports that:

Over half of all women in these states have no idea what McCain's positions are on reproductive health. Forty-nine percent of women in battleground states who currently favor McCain are pro-choice. Twenty-three percent of them believe McCain agrees with them on choice.

The good news is, 36 percent of pro-choice McCain supporters are less likely to vote for him after learning that McCain opposes Roe v. Wade and favors making most abortions illegal. That number hits 38 percent when those voters learn that McCain has also consistently voted against expanding access to programs that reduce pregnancy and the need for abortion, consistently voted in favor of abstinence-only programs, and against legislation requiring insurance companies to cover birth control.

The [Planned Parenthood] poll's encouraging conclusion: "The simple arithmetic of these findings suggests that just filling in McCain's actual voting record and his publicly stated positions on a handful of key issues has the potential to diminish his total vote share among battleground women voters by about 17 to 20 percentage points."

Reproductive Rights Prof Blog reports that "John McCain could lose the support of significant numbers of independent and pro-choice Republican women—if they are educated about the Arizona senator's antiabortion voting record."

Huffington also reminds us that McCain proudly told Chris Matthews last month that, "The rights of the unborn is one of my most important values." And what about the rights of the born? Well, it seems we can just crawl off into a corner and die if we need an abortion to save our lives and we live in a state where abortion is illegal. My friend Logan Levkoff who has a PhD in human sexuality and is the author of Third Base Ain't What It Used to Be, a book for parents to help them talk to their kids about sex, told me that Dr. Tiller saved her friend's life a few years ago. But Dr. Tiller's clinic would likely be shut down if Roe was overturned, so her friend would have died.

We all know that making abortion illegal does not stop women from obtaining abortions. Currently, around the world, 70,000 women die every year from unsafe (i.e. - illegal) abortions and an additional 5 million women are permanently or temporarily harmed by illegal abortions. Is it truly not important to American voters that we not add to these horrifying statistics? I don't think so. Does information make a difference in how we value reproductive rights as an election issue? Yes. So let's get the word out there and remind people that reproductive rights are a critical issue in this election. Dr. Tiller and the other workers need our support.

Suzanne also blogs about life at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants, yogurt at Live Active Cultures, and creating positive social change at Just Cause.

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