A Woman’s Right to Choose a President

A lot of men have been talking about women lately.

“I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen,” said Richard Mourdock, the Indiana Republican running for the U.S. Senate, in a debate.

“If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” said Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, in an interview on a St. Louis television station about his views on abortion.

“I went to a number of women’s groups and said: ‘Can you help us find folks?,’ and they brought us whole binders full of women,” said Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who said he “had more women in senior leadership positions than any other state” when he was governor of Massachusetts.

It seems that to these men, women are either vessels for embryos or items that can be placed in a notebook.

Let’s start with the “binders full of women.” After all, it’s a quote that has inspired hundreds of parodies and Web memes.

What really happened was that, prior to Romney’s election in 2002, a bipartisan group of women formed MassGap (Massachusetts Government Appointments Project) to research and create a list of women qualified for the top state positions. The group presented this binder to Romney when he was elected.

Romney did appoint 14 women among his first 33 senior-level appointments (42 percent). But according to a University of Massachusetts at Boston study that tracked 135 executive-level positions in the state, the percentage of women in those positions declined throughout the Romney Administration, from 30 percent prior to his taking office, to 27.6 percent near the end of his term in November 2006.

Romney’s private-sector record is no better. Bloomberg Businessweek reports that at Bain Capital, which Romney ran for 15 years, only seven women are among the company’s 87 managing directors and senior executives (8 percent). The national average is 8.1 percent.

In trying to further prove his women-friendly policies during the second presidential debate, Romney shared this anecdote about one of his female employees.

“I recognized that if you’re going to have women in the workforce, that sometimes you need to be more flexible. My chief of staff, for instance, had two kids that were still in school. She said: ‘I can’t be here until 7 or 8 o’clock at night. I need to be able to get home at 5 o’clock so I can be there for making dinner for my kids and being with them when they get home from school.’ So we said fine. Let’s have a flexible schedule so you can have hours that work for you.”

That’s a great story. But the idea is a bit antiquated. Only women need flexibility to have time with their children?

Also antiquated is the idea that male politicians have any business making healthcare decisions for women.

To his credit, Romney said he disagreed with Akin’s ideas about “legitimate rape” and called for Akin to withdraw his bid for the Missouri Senate. Many other Republicans continue to support the candidate.

When it comes Mourdock’s statement, Romney said, “I disagree with his views on rape and incest, but I still support him.” Romney is still running a campaign ad endorsing Mourdock.

Jon Huntsman, former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, told the Huffington Post that Romney should take his ad off the air.

“I’m here to tell you that there are some independents and swing voters in the middle that I think would respect a candidate who goes against the grain,” Huntsman said. “They’re looking for leadership during a time that these kinds of statements are made, as opposed to just the go-with-the-flow kinds of statements we always hear.”

Banning abortion in nearly all cases is no longer a radical Republican position; it’s part of the platform adopted at the Tampa convention.

Romney has had an evolving stance on abortion, from supporting a woman’s right to choose in 2002 to being “pro-life” in 2005 to wanting to overturn Roe v. Wade in 2007 to prohibiting federal funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood in 2011 to recently telling the Des Moines Register that he would not make abortion legislation part of his agenda. His running mate Paul Ryan sponsored an anti-abortion bill in the House that was so stringent, it banned in vitro fertilization.

If Romney cut off Mourdock because he doesn’t favor an abortion exemption for women impregnated by rapists, he would have to do the same to as many as 11 other Republican Senate candidates who hold the same position, including Akin.

All of this contributes to the gender gap Romney faces against President Barack Obama. Nate Silver wrote in his New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog, “Although polls disagree on the exact magnitude of the gender gap (and a couple of recent ones seemed to show Mitt Romney eliminating the president’s advantage with women voters), the consensus of surveys points to a large one this year — rivaling the biggest from past elections.”

In a year when the economy has taken center stage, and women have felt the pain as equally as men, you might think that gap would shrink.

“This suggests the gender gap instead has more to do with partisan ideology than with pocketbook voting; apart from their views on abortion, women also take more liberal stances than men on social issues ranging from same-sex marriage to gun control,” Silver wrote.

These issues — and others like equal pay, health care, violence against women — do matter, and they should matter to everyone. Not just women.

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