When Is the Election Going to Stop Focusing on Abortion and Rape?

BlogHer Original Post

Are we ever going to stop talking about rape and abortion this election? It sure doesn’t look like it. Yesterday, the insanity was bestirred by a “gaffe” made by Tom Smith, the GOP candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, who somehow managed to compare having a child by rape to having a child out of wedlock.

Yes, really.

And another headline-grabbing story this week: “Paul Ryan: The term “forcible rape” was “stock language.”

This came not from TMZ, or even from NARAL, but from yesterday’s Washington Post:

“Democrats have been accusing you of trying to redefine rape,” Fox News Channel host Bret Baier said to Ryan in an interview that aired Monday night. “You co-sponsored legislation seeking to distinguish between statutory and forcible rape. Why?"

This is when Ryan made the unfortunate mistake of admitting that “forcible” rape was just standard lawmaking language -- although he also said he agreed with removing it from the bill. But who knows if he was just pandering so as to not look like a total jerk? “Rape is rape. Period,” he also said. Was he sincere? Do we care at this point?

Then we have yesterday’s Huffington Post story:

Last week, Paul Ryan gave an interview in which, defending his position that there should be no excuses for abortion, he referred to rape as a just another "method of conception."

You know, like love-making, just without the love.

Ryan didn’t say those words exactly, but given his extreme views on birth control and abortion, the story took off anyway. Ryan says he no longer agrees with the use of the word “forcible” to characterize rape, and who can blame him? Right now rape is nothing but political wordplay: slicing and dicing the language to win women voters, on both sides of the aisle.

On Sunday, in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, demonstrated this attitude perfectly: He blamed the Democrats for this turn of events, saying that the Dems are using abortion and birth control as "shiny objects" to deflect voters' attention from economic issues, in which they believe Romney has the advantage. "This is not a social issue election," he insisted.

As much as Fehrnstrom would like it not to be, he’s wrong. According to a study by the Pew Research Center on abortion, 73 percent of conservative women opposed to abortion view it as “a very important voting issue.” Ironically, it's less so for liberal women, who are often assumed to be the women carrying the torch for abortion rights at election time.

But it’s clear the callous, clueless remarks about rape and abortion from male legislators aren’t going away. With the election as tight as it is, and the battle for the women’s vote intensifying, it’s only getting worse.

rnc women

Credit Image: © Glen Stubbe/Minneapolis Star Tribune/MCT/ZUMAPRESS.com)

So who stands to benefit most from prolonging this long-controversial debate over control of women’s bodies? Is it the Romney/Ryan campaign, which can’t seem to get its position on abortion straight, both trying to distance itself from Akin's words while putting forth the most radical anti-abortion platform in GOP history? Or is it the Obama campaign, which can't help but take the crazy remarks by Tea Party heroes like Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin as too-good-to-be-true fodder for scoring political points with women, who have been determined to be the swing votes that count?

Although Obama won a huge percent of the women’s vote in 2008, he didn’t do as well with the so-called “waitress moms.” (Don’t you love that as an existing female subcategory?) And recent polls say he's also lost ground with married women voters, although Obama still has a 10-point lead over Romney with women voters overall.

Clearly, this is why the Democrats are featuring a star lineup of women speakers at their convention, including equal-pay advocate (and former staunch Republican) Lily Ledbetter, so-called “slut” Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke , and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards . It's a schedule of women who invoke passionate responses, and it's meant to get any on-the-fence woman's attention.

After Akin’s outrageous comment, Obama rushed to say that “rape is rape,” thereby endearing himself to pro-choice women, and probably single women most of all. I appreciated him saying it, but he didn’t need to. I know where he stands.

But I'm especially sick of hearing politicians talk about rape in such a clinical and detached and disgustingly insensitive way -- as a talking point for their political agenda instead of a real-life trauma that millions of women have endured, including two of my closest friends. Don’t these men (and women) have mothers, sisters, daughters, friends who’ve experienced sexual assault? I want to ask them: Have you done anything to pass legislation protecting victims of domestic violence? Did you back VAWA? Do you realize that 1 in 5 women have been the victim of sexual assault in America?

And what about those women and girls who’ve suffered the added trauma of pregnancy? According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an between 10,000 to 15,000 women who have been raped each are estimated to abort their pregnancies each year. Do we really believe that we would be a better country by forcing these women and girls to carry the result of their abuse for 9 months?

I wish the Republicans and the Democrats would stop pandering and condescending. One tragic consequence of this election, apart from the lack of real solutions being offered to our economic problems, is that politicians have lost the ability to speak to women on issues that matter most to them, with dignity, intelligence and respect. What happened? I assume you view women as equals, or maybe not. But it would be great if you started treating us that way.

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