Reproductive Rights Come Under Microscope In GOP Race
The Republican Party’s escalating opposition to birth control has brought women’s reproductive rights onto the political center stage.
But the GOP’s focus on birth control in addition to abortion may be the wrong political move for the upcoming November presidential election for several reasons.
According to Dr. Malcolm Potts, who wrote a Los Angeles Times op-ed urging the Catholic Church to recognize the health benefits of contraception, women will be “very angry” at the polls.
“It represents the widespread male behavior and men's patriarchal streak to control women's bodies,” Potts said. “Maybe unconsciously, but universally, women want to escape that control over their bodies and want to control when they have children.”
The year has already seen a number of controversies surrounding sex and sexuality—most notably, the national uproar over the Susan G. Komen Foundation cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood and the recent ruling on California’s Proposition 8 against same-sex marriage as unconstitutional. These are both signs that strict conservative views on social issues are at odds with those of the rest of the country.
Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have spoken out against the Obama Administration’s recent decision that requires religiously affiliated institutions to provide free birth control to their employees. Santorum has benefited the most from his consistent stance on social issues, surging ahead in the GOP primaries up until this week's challenges in Arizona and Michigan.
Both Democratic and Republican parties will have to frame the subject of reproductive rights in certain ways to make the platform work to their advantage, according to Dr. Caroline Heldman, a political commentator and professor of politics at Occidental College.
“For Democrats, they need to use the framing of limiting women’s choice, which has been a successful frame,” Heldman said. “Republicans are framing it as a religious rights and freedom issue which appeals to Republican voters quite well.”
But when GOP candidates move from the controversial issue of abortion to the less polarizing topic of birth control, it begs the question of whether or not they have made a mistake by not recognizing a significant distinction between the two.
The nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks reproductive health policy and trends in America, reported last year that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used some form of contraception.
Some question how women will react to the GOP’s assault on their reproductive rights in this November’s ballot.
“These kinds of issues are very private issues,” said Raquel Beltran, the executive director of the League of Women Voters Los Angeles. “What women say in public may be different than what they say in the privacy and security of the voting booth.
But while the Republican Party’s new focus on birth control may backfire on them in the long run, it may have some short-term benefits.
“Injecting morality into politics through abortion, gay marriage and reproductive rights brings new voters into the electorate. It gets voters excited,” said Heldman.
However, opposition to contraception could be a shortsighted political move, according to Potts.
“I think Republicans are playing to extremists in order to do well in the primaries,” said Potts. “Women will say, 'I want to be a woman of the 20th century and not go back to the stone age.'”