Ramesh: Imaginary War
On Monday, College Republicans Vice President Melanie Wilcox wrote a piece endorsing Mitt Romney ("Why I'm Voting for Mitt," Nov. 5). Although I did not vote for Romney, I acknowledge that Wilcox made some very sound arguments. She suggested that the Obama administration has been trying to detract attention away from its economic record to social issues in order to gain votes from minorities and women. In particular, they have framed the Republican positions on birth control and abortion as a "War on Women," when in fact, as Wilcox argues, the problem is an economic one. However, the responses have overwhelmingly focused on that single sentence, arguing that the war is real and single-handedly persecuted by the GOP. One comment on The Dartmouth's website goes so far as to say, "But I suppose as a man, that doesn't matter to you, cause [sic] Romney's policies on women helps preserve the system that so greatly benefits you."
Some would argue naively that this was an innocent case in which the commenter simply forgot to read the name of the author. Instead, these people would argue, we should focus on the substance of the comment. I disagree. The accusatory comment was inspired not by a simple mistake, but rather the pervasive idea among liberals that all women are pro-choice and support government-funded access to birth control. The idea that any woman could ever be pro-life or find insurance mandates to cover birth control displeasing seems unfathomable. For many liberals, it seems obvious and natural that all women would want "control over their own body" as defined by access to abortion regardless of the circumstances, and anyone who disagrees is "anti-women" and a patriarchal misogynist. Another comment, for example, says, "I'm shocked that any woman could be so ignorant of the ways in which the [R]epublican party is hoping to limit women's rights." Ironically, these statements are remarkably ignorant about the attitudes of most women.
According to the Pew Research Center, there has been a consistent rise in the number of Americans who identify as pro-life. Since 2009, trends have shown that both men and women are increasingly turning against abortion. A 2012 Gallup poll shows that 46 percent of women identify as pro-life and 44 percent of women identify as pro-choice. Overall, 50 percent of Americans are pro-life while only 41 percent are pro-choice. It seems inconceivable to me that there could be a "War on Women" when nearly half the female population is in favor of what liberals would claim is limiting a woman's control over her own body. As seen in the responses to Wilcox's column, many in the pro-choice movement retain uncompromising views, and their accusatory comments turn away potential allies. Blindly believing that one's own social sphere is representative of the entire country is the root of the ignorant comments witnessed. America today is more partisan than ever before. We have different sources of information, different social circles and different news stations than "the other side." Unfortunately, this refusal to engage the opposite side of any issue leads many to believe their side is the only side.
Another frequent talking point is access to birth control. Romney's mentions of defunding Planned Parenthood provided the Obama campaign with enormous ammunition in "proving" the Republicans' animosity toward women. Federal funding of Planned Parenthood represents a minimal portion of its overall revenue. While government funding represents roughly a third of its total funds, most of this comes from state governments, and another large portion from Medicaid rather than the discretionary budget. Thus, barring discretionary funds from Planned Parenthood has an extremely minimal impact on the agency. There are plenty of nonprofit organizations and charities that do the work Planned Parenthood does. The notion that without the few discretionary federal dollars the organization will go under is nothing more than exaggeration. According to U.S. News, the average cost of birth control is $150 per year. Many men and women feel that government subsidies, and what some view as a takeover of the market, are not justified.
Given the diverse religious and social environments in the United States, issues of abortion and contraception are especially sensitive topics regarding which many have strong feelings. It is vital to remember that despite differing opinions, the "other side" also consists of people who love their country and believe that they, too, are doing the right thing. Differences of opinion do not constitute a "War on Women," and this certainly doesn't make them "women haters."