what war on women?

How to Remember That the War on Women Is More Real Than a Left-Handed Irishman

Photo: Bryan Oller/Corbis

A common GOP refrain throughout the election has been that the “War on Women” is a bit of political theater staged by Democrats — with an unfortunate assist from Rush Limbaugh — to make women feel victimized by the opposing party. Smart women, says everyone from would-be first lady Ann Romney to firebrand Michelle Malkin, see right through it. They will vote based on economic issues, not social ones, because they pay for their own birth control; don’t need the government to be their husband; and vote with their brains, not their lady parts.

At a private fund-raiser in Naples, Florida, on Thursday, vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan joined the chorus.  

According to ABC’s Shushanna Walshe (via the Huffington Post), Ryan said, “Now it’s a war on women; tomorrow it’s going to be a war on left-handed Irishmen or something like that.”

Which might be a good laugh line if you’re not in the one of those two demographics that’s not totally made-up. (Ryan, though Irish in ancestry, is right-handed.)

It’s also not really true. Whether as a result of successful Democratic messaging or not, polls say that women care about different issues in the election than men. In a recent Pew poll of registered voters, 54 percent of women said that abortion will be a “very important” issue for them in the election, compared with 36 percent of men; 81 percent of women said that health care will be very important, compared with 67 percent of men. An open-ended Gallup poll asked registered voters in swing states to name the most important issues in the election. A plurality of women, 39 percent, said abortion — more than jobs (19 percent), health care (18 percent), and the economy (16 percent). Abortion didn’t even make men’s list in the same poll.

I don’t think it’s that women are too dumb or distracted by, as Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom put it, the “shiny object” of reproductive rights to be worried about jobs and the economy. As Nate Silver pointed out, women represented 47 percent of the labor force as of September. It’s much more likely that abortion and health care top jobs and the economy, respectively, because for women, losing the right to reproductive self-determination would preclude them from even participating in jobs and the economy.

But are those rights really under attack? Anytime that threat starts to seem like Democratic scaremongering or the Romney stance seems like a bit of pandering to the Christian right before the return of moderate, Massachusetts Mitt, I think it helps to visit the Romney campaign’s website. Just like they say in their recent commercial.

The Values section begins: “Mitt Romney is pro-life. He believes it speaks well of the country that almost all Americans recognize that abortion is a problem.” It says that Romney believes “the next right step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade,” and if elected, he’d get to appoint at least one justice who agrees with him. It also says that he supports the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funding for Medicaid from going to abortions for low-income women, and that he will end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, even as rates of unplanned pregnancies rise among low-income women.

It’s impossible to predict if Romney will make good on those promises, but more important, to any economically minded woman, Romney’s platform should seem at least as great a threat to their social mobility (in which the U.S. is behind most of Europe, Australia, and Canada, says the Times) as letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire.

How to Remember That the War on Women Is Real