Romney enters fray in Republican 'war on women'


OF ALL the positions taken by hopefuls in the chaotic race for the Republican presidential nomination, none are as potentially self-defeating as what Democrats call the “war on women”.

Front runner Mitt Romney entered the battle this week when a Missouri television station asked how he would balance the budget.

“Of course you get rid of Obamacare, that’s the easy one, but there are others,” Mr Romney said. “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.”

Planned Parenthood was founded 95 years ago. Last year, it provided birth control to 2.2 million Americans, tested or treated four million for sexually transmitted diseases, and carried out 1.5 million cancer screenings. Polls show 69 per cent of voters oppose cutting its funding.

When he was standing for governor of Massachusetts, Mr Romney attended a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, said he supported state-funded abortions for poor women and obtained the group’s endorsement for his election.

Overnight, the Democratic Party transformed Mr Romney’s pledge to destroy Planned Parenthood into a television advertisement. The Democratic congressional campaign committee sent an email titled “Vile” seeking donations for “an urgent grassroots campaign” to defeat Republican attempts to “defund Planned Parenthood, deny women access to healthcare and birth control and even prohibit women the right to participate in the debate about women’s healthcare”.

The last point was an allusion to Sandra Fluke, a Georgetown University law student who was banned by Republicans from speaking to an all-male congressional panel on contraception.

Radio talkshow host Rush Limbaugh lost many of his sponsors after calling Ms Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” who “wants to be paid to have sex”, and demanding to see videos; all because Ms Fluke said student insurance at Catholic universities should include contraception.

Mr Romney and his conservative religious rival Rick Santorum refused to condemn Limbaugh’s insults against Ms Fluke.

Mr Romney later modified his remarks about Planned Parenthood, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that he did not want to shut the women’s healthcare provider down, merely strip it of federal funding.

Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation, said Mr Romney showed “an extraordinary lack of understanding of family planning and the budget” because “family planning saves taxpayers’ money” by avoiding unwanted pregnancies.

Abortion has been legal in the US since 1973, but last year 24 states passed 92 laws making it more difficult to obtain.

The Texas law that came into effect last month has been highlighted in a Doonesbury cartoon this week. Texas is the strictest of 21 states requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion.

In Texas, a woman must submit to vaginal penetration by an ultrasound wand, look at the image of the foetus on the screen and listen to its heartbeat. At least four more states are considering similar legislation.

Mr Santorum believes sex should be reserved for heterosexual married couples for the purpose of procreation. This is the ideology driving the US debate about reproductive rights.

A Bloomberg poll shows that 77 per cent of Americans believe contraception should not even be part of the US political debate. Yet the Catholic Church and the Republican Party have united in a de facto alliance to deprive American women of birth control.

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops on Wednesday made its top priority fighting a regulation that requires Catholic universities, hospitals and charities to provide insurance that includes contraception.

A Republican-sponsored Senate Bill that would have allowed any US employer to refuse contraceptive insurance on religious grounds was narrowly defeated on March 1st.

A draft Bill in Arizona would allow any business to exclude contraceptives from health insurance. To obtain coverage from a reluctant employer, a woman would have to provide proof that she is taking the pill for non-contraceptive purposes, such as regulating her menstrual cycle or to prevent acne.

The Wisconsin state legislature this week passed a law requiring schools to teach abstinence in sex education classes. Informing students about contraception is optional. Twelve other states already allow abstinence-only sex education.

The local Republican Party in Laurens County, South Carolina, requires anyone wanting to stand for public office to swear he or she has not had extramarital sex. The state party distanced itself from the decision because it violates state law.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic senators yesterday began a push to renew the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which funds law enforcement programmes, shelters for battered women and legal assistance for victims of domestic violence.

Republicans oppose the Act because it would give abused immigrants a claim to temporary residence, and because it extends protection to same-sex victims of domestic violence.