Tampa—As I previously reported, the Republican National Convention—in the hopes of softening the party’s well-deserved reputation for being hostile to women—scheduled many women speakers on Tuesday night. So when I ventured onto the floor this evening, I tried to ask influential Republican women about the challenge their party faces among women voters. Their answers varied widely, and demonstrated that, other than constantly changing the subject to the economy, they do not have an answer.
The most useless attitude for Republican women to adopt is one of pure self-delusion. Despite years of women mostly favoring abortion rights, some Republican activists simply assert that women are opposed to them. Republicans don’t have to worry that their platform’s call to ban all abortions will turn off women, Jean Turner, the president of the Ohio Federation of Republican Women, told me. Why is that? “Women know what life means,” she explained. “Women have babies.”
Some Republican women are not so certain. Charlotte Rasmussen, the former president of the Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women, embodies the conflicted discomfort that many Republican women feel on reproductive issues. On the one hand, she thinks it should be ignored because the economy is more important and the law is in the hands of the Supreme Court. On the other hand, she is against abortion, but she does not know if exceptions should be made. “I don’t want to talk about abortion,” she said. The reasons she offered are that “it’s a controversial issue,” and women are more concerned about the economy. Rasmussen thinks “abortion is not an issue,” because “it’s not going to change.” What she means is that Roe v. Wade is unlikely to overturned, although, “I’d be fine with it being overturned.” Rasmussen also believes that “every abortion is bad.” But does that mean she agrees with the GOP’s stance that a girl who is raped by her father should not be allowed to have an abortion? “I’m not sure,” she said. “It’s not an issue I’ve had to deal with so I don’t want to comment on it.” That’s not a winning message for women who are concerned that Republicans are insensitive to issues women’s health.
The best explanation for the Republican platform plank on abortion actually came from a woman who disagrees with it, Karen Dove, a delegate from Florida. “If you look at party platforms, Democrats say partial birth abortion is good,” she said. Democrats, of course, don’t actually say any abortion is good, but it’s true that the party has not come out for banning so-called “partial birth” abortions. “Would most Democrats say partial birth abortion is OK?” asked Dove rhetorically. “I don’t think so.” Her point, which is fair insofar as it goes, is that both parties have to cater to their interest groups, even if the resulting platform statements are not supported by most party members. “We have a big contingent that thinks abortion is wrong in every case,” noted Dove. “Every party has to cater to people who come out and vote. On both sides you have extremes.” Analytically, this is accurate. But, if the next time Dove goes out canvassing in her neighborhood and a woman who answers the door says she is thinking of voting for Mitt Romney but just can’t get behind that abortion plank, Dove’s answer is unlikely to fully reassure her.