Reports on women's reasons for choosing to seek public office are replete with data supporting the fact that these women, regardless of political party affiliation, are motivated by a desire to improve the lives of women and children. There are also occasions when women-electeds join hands across the political aisle to support a women's cause, albeit usually one of the "motherhood and apple pie" sort.
And women of every political stripe share that "girl power" bond so evident earlier this month when America's women Olympians were proving the power of American girls of every kind. Regardless of political party affiliation, back at home American girls of all ages whooped and hollered in support of their sisters. We didn't know the athletes' political views, but it didn't matter. Knowing the desire and will of Gabby and Missy and their team mates to assert their girl power was sufficient to our being supportive.
Sadly, while American women of differing political views share a deep belief in the power of women to lead and succeed, Republican and Democratic women officeholders increasingly differ in their approach to policy issues affecting women. The recent fight over re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, and Republican women senators' votes against the Paycheck Fairness Act are just two proof points.
Proof also came in the formation, earlier this year, of the Women's Policy Committee by a group of Republican women Members. Alas, according to the Center for American Progress, these women are united in "... their legislative opposition to women's rights..." including the fact that, as rated by Planned Parenthood: "20 of the 24... women earned a zero score, voting against reproductive health at every opportunity. The average score for the women was under 6 percent."
Therein lies the conundrum for Republican women voters as they consider their vote come 2012's presidential Election Day. When the United States is as politically polarized as it's ever been, now epitomized by the Obama-Biden and Romney-Ryan presidential tickets and their wildly different women's issues platforms, not to mention the apparently continuing candidacy of woman-hater Todd Akin, will Republican women voters join women Republican elected officials and vote against their self interest?
That self-interest is, most importantly, as Planned Parenthood terms-it, one's "reproductive health." Controlling it creates the autonomy women need to make the choice to seek and hold office. Perhaps for that reason ("when women run, women win"), since Roe v. Wade rendered abortion constitutionally legal 40 years ago, generations of male elected officials have fought to dismantle it.
Paul Ryan represents this view, full throat: He is a sponsor of the "Sanctity of Human Life Act," which gives states the right to ban abortions without exception. He seeks cuts to Medicaid funding and shifting distribution of those funds from the federal government to the state governments, thereby likely obviating the constitutional protection Roe provides. He voted for the Pence Amendment, which would have eliminated federal funding of Planned Parenthood's provision of reproductive health services, i.e., birth control, (and not abortion). According to one writer, "...he (Ryan) has checked every box on the anti-abortion list. That includes support for 'personhood' (constitutional) amendments that protect life from conception -- in other words, completely banning abortion."
It is true Sarah Palin was also opposed to abortion; "Palin makes no secret of her abortion views":
A member of the group Feminists for Life, she told Alaska Right to Life in 2002 that she 'adamantly supported our cause since I first understood, as a child, the atrocity of abortion.' In an Eagle Forum Alaska questionnaire filled out during the 2006 gubernatorial race, Palin again stated that she is against abortion unless a doctor determined that a mother's life would end due to the pregnancy. 'I believe that no matter what mistakes we make as a society,' she wrote, 'we cannot condone ending an innocent's life.'
But Palin got a pass from some women voters because of the historic nature of her candidacy. Just like the Jewish voters who disagreed with Joe Lieberman on policy but took pride nevertheless in his selection as a vice-presidential candidate, some women voters took pride in Palin's selection, notwithstanding her policy views. And just like seeing women run, swim, vault and jump changes young women's views of what they can be ("strong is the new pretty," according to Brian Williams), seeing Sarah Palin take charge made a positive difference to young women voters.
As a result, some even voted for the Republican ticket. But no such pass is in the offing for Paul Ryan: Yet another attractive and polite white man, married with children and from a swing state, is the vice-presidential pick. No Title IX in play in Romney's game, alas.
And so we approach Election Day 2012: What view do 2012's Republican women voters have of Mitt Romney's selection of Paul Ryan? What lesson will they take from Todd Akin seeking to represent them? What will they conclude after watching Republican women officeholders vouch for and endorse Paul Ryan, a man opposed in every way one can think of to women's ability to control their reproductive destiny, a requisite to that very participation in public leadership? (I'm thinking hypocritical here.)
Will these voters be content once told that the women they see and hear endorsing Paul Ryan are just doing what they need to do, no big deal? Some women (of whatever view about their sisters) is better than no women?
Or will 2012's Republican women voters recognize this presidential election for what it really is for every American woman voter: a referendum on the very notion of what a woman can be in this day and age? I sure hope so.