At a private fundraiser in Naples, Fla., on Thursday, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan mocked the so-called "war on women."
“Now it’s a war on women; tomorrow it’s going to be a war on left-handed Irishmen or something like that,” Ryan told the crowd of donors, according to Shushanna Walshe of ABC News.
Democrats began using the "war on women" rhetoric in late 2011 to describe an unprecedented legislative focus by Republican lawmakers during the last two years on limiting women's access to abortion and contraception. Ryan has cast 60 votes on abortion and reproductive rights issues during his time in the House of Representatives, and all of them were deemed "anti-choice" by women's health advocates.
In addition to passing or proposing laws that would limit abortion rights, mandate ultrasounds, allow employers to deny women birth control coverage and defund Planned Parenthood, Republicans have repeatedly come under fire during the past several months for making inflammatory comments about women's health. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh called Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke a "slut" for advocating for contraception coverage, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) said victims of "legitimate rape" rarely get pregnant, and Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) said on Thursday that there should be no abortion exception for the "life of the mother" because "with modern technology and science, you can't find one instance" in which a woman would actually die from a pregnancy.
Republicans, in response, have long claimed that the "war on women" is a figment of Democrats' imaginations and that women's issues are "shiny objects of distraction" Democrats are using to take the spotlight off the real issues this election.
Rich Beeson, political director for Mitt Romney's campaign, echoed Ryan's sentiment in an interview with ABC7 News on Thursday, calling women's reproductive rights and equal pay "small things" that are not important to voters.
"Barack Obama four years ago said, 'If you don't have something to talk about on the issues you talk about the small things,'" Beeson said in response to a question about women's issues. "And that's what we're seeing from the Obama campaign ... They don't have an issue to run on, they dont have an agenda for the next term, so they want to talk about the small things and distract America from the important things of restoring and strengthening the middle class and putting America back to work."
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Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/06/03/494238/fehrnstrom-shiny-objects-women/" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."
The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/30/perino-equal-pay-issue-is-a-distraction-for-just-48-hours/" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."
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Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/john-mccain-war-on-women_n_1455591.html" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.
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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/priebus-says-gender-battle-as-fictonal-as-caterpillar-war.html" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."
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Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.
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South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."