Feminists for McCain? Not So Much

Feminists for McCain? Not So Much

NARAL and Planned Parenthood give him a big fat zero. What else do you need to know?


Are there feminist Hillary supporters who hate Obama so much they’ll vote for McCain just to show the Democratic Party how ticked off they are? Yes, and I get e-mails from all five of them. Seriously, I’m sure there are female Hillary Clinton voters who will go for John McCain in the general election, but I don’t think too many of them will be feminists. Because to vote for McCain, a feminist would have to be insane. Let me rephrase that: she would have to believe that the chief–indeed the only–goal of the women’s movement is to elect Clinton, not to promote women’s rights. A vote for McCain would be the ultimate face-spiting nose-cutoff. Take that, women’s equality!

Not that the media will help women get it. As Eric Alterman and George Zornick exhaustively document elsewhere in this issue, the mainstream press is doing its best to persuade us that McCain is a moderate–barely distinguishable from Barack Obama–even on abortion rights, one of the brighter dividing lines between the parties. In the Providence Journal five days after Clinton suspended her campaign, columnist Froma Harrop was typical: "Would McCain stock the Supreme Court with foes of Roe v. Wade?… The answer is unclear but probably ‘no.’" After all, in 1999 he told the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that he "would not support repeal" of Roe because women would seek unsafe, illegal procedures. Since the Democrats will control Congress, Harrop figures, "McCain would probably choose a cipher" rather than get bogged down in the abortion wars. This fake shrewdness, buttressed by much use of "probably," "seems," "may" and "my guess is," has as much value as a bet by a drunk in a bar. We all have our hunches–usually they magically line up with our wishes and preferences, in Harrop’s case, her support for Clinton. By the end of the column she’s castigating Obama for his "present" votes on abortion bills in the Illinois Assembly, and by the time she’s finished, you’d never know that NARAL and Planned Parenthood give Obama 100 percent ratings and McCain a big fat zero.

How antichoice is John McCain? Let’s leave the psychological tea leaves out of it and look at his record. In his four years in the House, from 1983 to 1986, he cast eleven votes on reproductive issues. Ten were antichoice. Of 119 such votes in the Senate, 115 were antichoice, including votes for the ban on so-called partial-birth abortions and for the "gag rule," which refuses funds to clinics abroad that so much as mention abortion. In 1999, the year he said he opposed repeal of Roe on health grounds, he voted against a bill that would have permitted servicewomen overseas, where safe, legal abortion is often unavailable, to pay out of their own pockets for abortions in military hospitals.

His record on contraception and sex education is just as bad. He voted against a 2005 budget amendment, sponsored by Senator Hillary Clinton, that would have allotted $100 million to reduce teen pregnancy by means of education and birth control. He voted to require parental consent for birth control for teenage girls and to abolish Title X, which funds birth control and gynecological care for the poor. He voted against requiring insurance companies to pay for prescription contraception, when they pay for other prescription drugs–like, um, Viagra. The beat goes on, and on. With a handful of minor exceptions (he voted to confirm prochoice Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher after voting against prochoice Dr. Joycelyn Elders), he has a just about perfect antichoice record, including votes to confirm the Supreme Court nominations of Thomas, Roberts and Alito.

As for his 1999 pro-Roe remark, he has retracted it many, many times. Here he is on Meet the Press, May 13, 2007:

Q: Back in 1999…you said this: "Certainly, in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to undergo illegal and dangerous operations."

A: Well, it was in the context of conversation about having to change the culture of America as regards to this issue. I have stated time after time after time that Roe v. Wade was a bad decision….

Q: But if Roe v. Wade was overturned during a McCain presidency, and individual states chose to ban abortion, would you be concerned that, as you said, X number of women in America would undergo illegal and dangerous operations?

A: No, I would hope that X women in America would bring those children into birth and into life in this world.

If that’s not clear enough for you, how about this: "I do not support Roe v. Wade, period. It should be overturned" (Associated Press, February 18, 2007). Or this, from his campaign website: "Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned."

As the Bush years have shown, the President has a tremendous amount of power; Supreme Court nominations don’t begin to describe it. He nominates all the federal judges (302 since Bush took office). He appoints the heads of dozens of regulatory agencies, many of which (HHS, FDA, National Institutes of Health) directly affect women’s lives. He submits legislation and the budget to Congress. He has a veto. Bush, we all know, has filled the government with right-wing Christian hacks and family-values fanatics, with room left over for incompetent cronies. He has done just about nothing good for women. McCain’s record suggests he would not be any different. His opposition to the Ledbetter Act, which would have overturned the Supreme Court’s restrictions on women’s right to sue for paycheck discrimination, tells you everything you need to know about where he stands on economic justice for women.

The media can call John McCain a moderate all they want. No matter how aggrieved women are by Clinton’s loss, I’m betting that the ones who care about women’s rights are too smart to fall for it.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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