Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page
The saying goes: don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. But, in communications, that is not always good advice. When it comes to the issue fueling talk shows across the country–women’s reproductive rights and services–the gunslingers are drawing damaging attention to themselves.
For decades, pro-life groups have worked steadily to erode access to abortions in a series of well-organized state-based legislative campaigns. Recognizing that the Supreme Court was unlikely to overturn Roe v. Wade and that national public opinion supported access to abortions, they made state legislatures in more conservative states their battlegrounds. This “knife” strategy has been extremely effective, because it kept the battle localized and didn’t mobilize opponents at a national level.
Over the last year, some pro-life supporters brought their knives to the national forum. First, there was the heated congressional debate over federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Then, it appears one influential conservative group pressured Susan G. Komen for the Cure into cutting its funding for Planned Parenthood. In both cases, pro-choice organizations and women’s health advocates roared about the perceived attack not just on abortion funding, but to women’s health funding, particularly for low-income women. And, in both cases, they effectively rallied grassroots support to retain their funding.
The current debate about insurance coverage for birth control is one where both sides pulled out their big guns. The Obama administration decided to mandate zero co-pay coverage from all employers except for churches or official places of worship. This riled the Catholic Bishops, who’d been readying their weapons for months in anticipation. As a result of savvy strategic planning, they won an early concession from Obama who realized he did not want to be embroiled in a fight with men of the cloth in an election year.
At the same time, a law made its way through the legislature in D.C.’s neighboring Virginia that mandated vaginal probe ultrasounds for women seeking abortions. The degree to which this law insinuated the government between a woman and her doctor captured national attention, leading to a public retreat by the sitting Republican governor.
But, the real excitement came when Republican presidential not-quite-frontrunner Rick Santorum harnessed his bully pulpit to express his opposition not just to forcing religious employers to pay for birth control, but for birth control in general. This was capped off last week when Rush Limbaugh branded a Georgetown University Law student a “slut” and “prostitute” for advocating for insurance coverage of contraceptives by all US employers and universities.
In the span of one year, the debate shifted from abortion to birth control. In the span of a few weeks, it shifted from the boundaries of religious liberty to something reminiscent of the 1640s.
Pundits on both sides have speculated about whether it was Obama’s plan all along to lure the social conservatives into a birth control debate. The reason they think it might have been is because they sense, and a few recent polls bear out, that the Republicans may have just lost the women’s vote. Advertisers and Republican party officials pressured Limbaugh to apologize. George Will is now encouraging the party to shift its focus to congressional races.
I have spoken about this battle with women from all parts of the political spectrum, from the red state in which I grew up and from the blue state in which I currently reside. The one thing about which we all agree is that we can’t believe the presidential election has turned into a fight about birth control and a debate about whether the GOP is waging a war on women. But it has. Because when someone pulls out a gun, everyone pays attention.
For a play-by-play of the current debate, click here: