The national media proudly proclaimed 2010 as the Year of the GOP Woman, but they’ve largely failed to bring actual women’s issues into the conversation.
Take abortion. “The media silence on abortion means we might end up forcing women to bear their rapists’ baby and the average American doesn’t even know about it,” says Loretta Ross, founding member of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.
Raw Story recently reported that at least 78 Republicans on the November ballot oppose abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.
According to official numbers from the US Department of Justice, one in three girls is sexually abused before the age of 18; 30-40 percent of victims are abused by a family member.
In 2004-2005, 64,080 women were raped in the US. According to medical reports, the incidence of pregnancy for one-time, unprotected sexual intercourse is five percent. By applying the pregnancy rate to 64,080 women, the Rape, Abuse and Incest Network estimates that there were 3,204 pregnancies as a result of rape during that period.
When Nevada Senate hopeful Sharron Angle was asked by conservative radio talk host Bill Manders about whether she would support banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest, she said, “You know, I’m a Christian and I believe that God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives and that he can intercede in all kinds of situations and we need to have a little faith in many things.”
When talk show host Alan Stock asked Angle what she would say to a young girl who was got pregnant after being raped by her father, she said, “I think that two wrongs don’t make a right.”
If Republicans like Angle, Delaware Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell or Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann have their way, women and girls would be forced to bear their rapists’ babies. Anti-choice Republicans rarely go this far, but this new breed clearly feels empowered to take such extreme measures. This issue is getting attention in the alternative media and in recent debates, but the national press has largely failed to expose just how extreme these candidates are on social issues.
“It’s shocking,” says Amie Newman, managing editor of RH Reality Check, an online publication focusing on reproductive health and rights. “These candidates are espousing extremely frightening positions on women’s health. It’s important for us to understand that these positions are not just political rhetoric. If these people are elected, they have the power to change women’s and girl’s lives for the worst.”
In her piece “Mainstreaming Extremism,” Newman exposes the most extreme anti-choice GOP candidates, including Republican Senate hopeful Pat Toomey from Pennsylvania, who supports jailing doctors for performing abortions. When Republican Senate hopeful Marco Rubio from Florida was House Speaker, he passed an anti-choice bill forcing women to pay for an ultrasound prior to an abortion unless they could prove they were raped. Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill.
During California’s GOP Senate primary, ousted Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina said she “absolutely would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.” In a May appearance on Dennis Prager’s conservative radio show, she said, “In fact, I am proudly pro-life.” But even in California, one of the most pro-choice states in the country, Fiorina’s extreme views on social issues, including gay marriage and abortion, haven’t become a major issue.
“It’s been very difficult to get any traction on choice,” says Kathy Kneer, president of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. Because Planned Parenthood clinics in California have seen a 12 to 20 percent increase in demand from mid-age women who’ve lost their health insurance, Kneer says they don’t have the funding it takes to educate voters on these crucial issues.
Defunding Domestic Violence Support
In parts of California’s Central Valley, where the unemployment rate is 30 percent, people are losing their homes and homeless shelters are seeing more women and children than ever. “We’re trying to figure out how to serve people. We’re working weekends and nights.”
Demand at domestic violence shelters across the country is also on the rise, according to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, but you’d be hard pressed to hear any of the cable or Sunday shows raise the issue. According to the 2009 National Census of Domestic Violence Services, on September 15, 2009, 32,524 domestic violence victims found refuge in emergency shelters or transitional housing provided by local domestic violence programs; 32,979 adults and children received nonresidential assistance and services. Because of budget cuts, more than 9,000 requests, including 5,500 for housing, were turned down.
Planned Parenthood of California has sent both Fiorina and gubernatorial hopeful Meg Whitman questionnaires about their views on abortion, contraception, health care, and other issues, but Kneer says they never responded. The campaigns never responded to repeated interview requests from Truthout.
“They hope that voters don’t key in on these things,” she says. “They think the press are irrelevant. It’s very frightening from the public’s point of view because voters aren’t getting the information they need.”
Because low-income women and children don’t have lobbyists or money for ads, it’s easy for politicians and the media to ignore them. It’s hard to believe, but according to the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), every minute a baby is born to a teen mother; every 32 seconds a baby is born into poverty; and every 41 seconds a child is confirmed abused or neglected.
In 2009, 15.5 million children lived in poverty – more than one in every five children. One in three black and Hispanic children are poor. The increase from 2008 to 2009 was the steepest rise in poverty of any age group and the largest single year increase for children since the 1960s.
If it weren’t for the reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program in January or extensions of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, the number of children living in poverty would be much higher, argues the CDF.
“Far too many of our political leaders consistently tried to block legislation to help children and families in dire need. They tried to block expanded access to health coverage for tens of millions in America. They tried to block extension of unemployment insurance benefits. They tried to block additional federal assistance to protect or create jobs or expand tax credits for working families desperately trying to feed, house and clothe their children. They tried to block funds to stimulate a reeling economy with 14.6 million unemployed workers and massive state budget deficits.”
The CDF recently released its 2009 Nonpartisan Congressional Scorecard, which tracks votes that senators and representatives cast on important concerns affecting children and families.
The average Senate score for children was 67 percent. According to the scorecard, 36 senators, all Democrats, scored 100 percent (the best senators for children), and 43 Senators – 41 Republicans and two Democrats – scored below 70 percent (the worst senators for children).
The average House of Representatives score for children was 63 percent. According to the scorecard, 158 Representatives, all Democrats, scored 100 percent, and 185 Representatives – 180 Republicans and five Democrats – scored below 70 percent.
The CDF’s Deputy Director of Communications Jean Chase says it’s astounding that these issues aren’t being raised during one of the worse economic crises in history. “Children can’t vote, but you need to vote for them,” she says.
It’s Not About the Deficit
Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a scientific research organization that she founded in 1987 to meet the need for women-centered, policy-oriented research, says most of the economic coverage she’s seen has focused on the deficit. “You would think that this country only cares about deficits,” she says. “Women don’t care about the deficit. They care about social security. They don’t want it cut. Men don’t want it cut. So much of the media follow the conventional wisdom that says we must cut social security. That’s simply not true. It would do nothing to bring down the budget deficit because it’s not contributing to the deficit. That is ridiculous.”
According to new data collected for the IWPR by Precision Opinion, the majority of voters, especially women and young voters, favor candidates who will preserve current Social Security benefit levels, and 86 percent of registered voters would pay taxes to ensure they will receive benefits when they retire.
When do the talking heads ever mention the fact that three out of five working women earn less than $30,000 per year? Or that women still make 77 cents for every $1 earned by a man? According to the AARP, Social Security represents 53 percent of total income for unmarried women over 65, and keeps 39.5 percent of women out of poverty. In 2008, 42 percent of women over age 62 relied on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their income.
Think Progress recently listed 104 Republicans in Congress who want to privatize Social Security. Add Republican Senate hopefuls, including Angle and Rand Paul to the mix, and a GOP-controlled Congress might have the necessary votes to do it. Hartmann says President Obama’s anti-Social Security deficit commission doesn’t help.
Sheila De Lany, a member of the Santa Cruz County Women’s Commission, says the lack of attention on these issues has been shameful. “The media generally stink, even NPR,” she says. “Even if the interviewers are women, they only talk to men and they don’t bring up these issues. I’ve never heard any of them ask, ‘How will this person’s political positions affect women?’ There seems to be no interest in that at all. The media let the candidates say, ‘We hate Obamacare.’ But they never talk about how their policies will affect women, especially senior women.”
SisterSong’s Loretta Ross says the national media’s obsession with the corporate-funded Tea Party has made it safe for extremists to come out of the closet. “People who ran from these positions only two years ago, or at least deeply disguised them, now feel protected when they take these extremist positions,” she says. “Whether or not they can convince moderates and independents to support them is the test of November 2.”