Mitt Romney. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Dear Undecided Women Voters of America: It’s been fun watching you force the candidates to pay attention to the stuff men really don’t like to think about—equal pay and abortion and “legitimate rape” and all that. I love you, women! as Ann Romney likes to say. But we’re getting down to the wire now, and it’s time for you to make up your minds. Because face it, expecting to figure it out in the voting booth is not very considerate toward all the people who will have been waiting in line for hours to cast their ballot. Fortunately, despite Mitt Romney’s multiple, changing and contradictory statements, there are major differences between him and President Obama on all these issues.
Now, if you believe that the only issue that matters is the economy, and you believe that giving tax breaks to the wealthiest people and firing public sector workers is the way to fix it, you can stop reading right now. Ditto if you think all or almost all abortion should be a crime, Planned Parenthood should get no federal dollars, employers should decide whether employees get health insurance coverage for contraception (or anything else), and women should have a hard time suing for pay discrimination. But actually, if you believe those things, you are probably not all that undecided, are you? Fess up: you’re voting for Romney and just enjoy faking out reporters with your Mona Lisa smile.
Maybe, though, you support women’s rights, like most women—did I mention that the gender gap is huge this year?—but you think Romney is a moderate who is only pretending to be anti-choice and dim on equal pay. I can see why you might think that: you never know whether you’re going to get the Romney who campaigned for governor of Massachusetts as a pro-choicer and who today talks about how every woman should have access to contraception, or the Romney who claims he governed that bluest of blue states in a “severely conservative” fashion. He’s said so many different things over the years, it’s really hard to tell what he actually believes. What we do know, though, is that he has said he’ll “get rid of” Planned Parenthood funding if elected—that means cutting off more than 5 million low-income women from basic reproductive healthcare. He’s said he’ll overturn the Affordable Care Act and, specifically, that he supports the Blunt amendment, which would have permitted employers to exclude from coverage any kind of healthcare that offends their religious or moral convictions—birth control, prenatal care for single women, you name it.
Romney, in fact, supports banning abortion except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the woman’s life. He’s running ads that tout these exceptions as evidence of his moderation, but what kind of moderate wants to criminalize 93 percent of all abortions? Among those who would not be lucky enough to qualify for Romney’s exceptions are women carrying fetusus with fatal conditions, the mentally ill and pregnant women at risk for any injury short of death. In reality, Romney would criminalize most abortions for rape and incest victims, too, since most rapes and incest are not reported: in 2009, only 331 abortions were performed in the whole country that qualified for the Hyde amendment’s rape exception, under which federal funds can be used for low-income women’s abortions.
As an undecided voter, you may be undecided about abortion, too. Lots of people are. But ask yourself this: do you want it to be a crime? As in arrests, trials, prison? And here’s the thing: as president, Romney would be able to bring about the end of Roe v. Wade very easily. The next president will surely nominate one Supreme Court justice—Ruth Bader Ginsburg is 79 and a cancer survivor—and probably more than one. It will take only a single additional vote to make the current anti-Roe four into a majority. Moderate Mitt would never let that happen, you say? In 2007, he said he would be “delighted” to sign a total ban on abortion (such a ban is part of the Republican Party platform). He acknowledged that people weren’t ready for that, but added that America is “ready to overturn Roe v. Wade.” More recently, Romney has clearly stated his “preference” for a Court that would reverse Roe. His campaign adviser on the law is Robert Bork, whose reactionary views on women’s rights, including Roe, are so over the top, the Senate rejected his nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987. The thing is, what Romney may privately believe is less important—way less important—than the political alliances and bargains he has made with the far-right Christian base of his party. But he doesn’t want uncommitted voters to realize that, so he tells The Des Moines Register he has no plans for anti-abortion legislation despite his many anti-abortion positions, including overturning Roe.
As for women’s employment rights, he still hasn’t said whether he would have signed the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which permits women to sue when they belatedly discover they’ve been paid less than men doing the same job. He does not seem to believe that government plays a role in ensuring fairness in the workplace. Are you ready to say goodbye to your right to bring a complaint against your boss?
The Romney campaign’s basic strategy on so-called women’s issues is to change the subject: what women really care about is not their own rights but the economy. You’ll notice no one else is being asked to sacrifice their rights to bring back jobs—certainly not employers or the 1 percent. And the joke on women is, few of them will see much of those promised tax cuts—which are skewed toward the wealthy, not the waitress—but women will definitely suffer under the severe budget cuts that are the other half of Romney’s proposals, since they are the teachers, social workers, healthcare workers and other public employees who will find themselves unemployed.
Still undecided? Supreme Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Court.
For more on Mitt Romney's stance on abortion, read Harold Pollack's take.