In The News, Presidential Elections

Taking Control

From The New Yorker

Will female voters flee the Republican Party over its attacks on reproductive rights? In Comment this week, Margaret Talbot writes about the problems with using birth control to attack President Obama:

It’s tempting to say that the timing of these events—and the eighty new restrictions on abortion rights that were enacted by state legislatures in 2011, up from twenty-three in 2010—is not unlikely at all, and that it is precisely because women are on the ascendant in the public sphere that conservatives seem so eager to undermine them in the private one. But that seems more systematic than is probable. The real attraction of the birth-control issue was that it could be used to bash Obamacare. It’s not proving to be a very effective weapon, however. When birth control is uncoupled from the religious-freedom argument—and when conservatives start talking in ugly ad-hominem language, like Limbaugh’s, or clueless anachronistic language, like Santorum’s—women, in particular, do not respond well. Just after Limbaugh lashed out at Fluke, a Georgetown professor attended a reunion at a Catholic school in Queens. An elderly nun asked her, “Do you know that girl?” She added, “That awful man should be fired for what he said. How’s she holding up?”

Women, of course, make up the majority of the electorate, and, in the general election, it won’t necessarily help if Republicans try to insulate themselves by, say, picking a female Vice-Presidential candidate—maybe another governor, like Susana Martinez, of New Mexico. As the conservative political analyst Michelle Bernard noted, on NPR, “2008 saw the advent of the red-state feminist,” the type of woman who supported Sarah Palin, and most polls show that “even those right-of-center women … are absolutely appalled” by the attacks on reproductive rights.

Social conservatives could pay more attention to another, more challenging social issue: the decline in marriage. More than half of all births to American women under the age of thirty now take place outside of marriage, and children who grow up without married parents are less likely to go to college and to find employment, and are more likely to live in poverty, to become pregnant as teen-agers, and to go to prison than children with married parents. It might be tough for Newt Gingrich to make marital commitment a centerpiece of his platform, but Santorum could. In the same interview in which he condemned contraception, he talked about how he would use the moral authority of the Presidency to support marriage. But, on the campaign trail and on his official Web site, his social-issue rhetoric is almost all about abortion, contraception, reinstating Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and passing a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

Will the Republican Party turn its attention to preserving the institution of marriage rather than attacking reproductive rights? Or will birth control, same-sex marriage, and abortion continue to dominate their social-issue agenda?

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