That was the question recently posed at the packed VFW Post 5253 hall in Albertson by Ann Salpeter Schockett, president of the Nassau County Federation of Republican Women, and Wendy Long, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in New York, had a provocative reply.
“The Democrats have been inflating this balloon about this phony war on women now for the last year,” Long told the crowd. “And the whole reason they cook this up is because they have such a dismal, dismal record on jobs and the economy, which are number one in the minds of almost every voter in this country and certainly in this state…. Frankly, what women are concerned about is not really birth control, what women are concerned about is spending control.”
Judging from the approving response, her answer certainly seemed to appeal to this clearly conservative crowd who came out to hear her on the night when former President Bill Clinton addressed the Democratic National Convention, where speakers had been criticizing the Republicans for attempting to “roll back” women’s reproductive rights and blocking women’s efforts to get equal pay. There may not be an actual “war,” but everyone agrees that women’s issues are on the front lines this November, and whom women vote for could make the difference in a close election.
No one argues that the two parties do differ starkly on a woman’s right to choose. The Republican Party’s convention platform says that, “We assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” That plank has been interpreted to mean that there would be no exceptions for abortion, even if a woman were raped.
Long takes that position, according to her campaign spokesman Dave Catalfamo, who tells Milieu, “Her position is pretty clear. She believes in protecting life from conception through death. She’s never veered from that.”
By contrast, the other platform states, “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right. The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empower people to make informed choices and live healthy lives.”
That’s the view shared by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, the Democratic incumbent.
“Women’s reproductive freedom, our ability to make our own health-care decisions, the decision to make sure that being a woman is not a pre-existing condition, are fundamental to the well-being of women,” Gillibrand said last week at the Democratic convention. “When the House of Representatives is having a hearing about access to birth control, and the first panel is devoid of a woman, women’s voices aren’t being heard.”
That hearing about contraceptive coverage in the new health care law made third-year Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a household name (Rush Limbaugh called her a “slut”) when the Republican majority barred her from testifying.
Last year Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), now Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s running mate, co-sponsored the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act, a ban on federal funding for abortions that would exempt only “forcible rape” and not “rape” in general. Long Island veteran Congressman Peter King (R-Seaford) was also a co-sponsor.
“I have been consistently pro-life throughout my 20 years in Congress and the voters, men and women, know that,” says King. “I certainly consider myself to be ‘pro-woman,’ such as being in the forefront of efforts to increase research funding in the struggle against breast cancer and I consider terms like ‘war on women’ to be utterly ridiculous, insulting and non-intelligent.”
Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola), sees the issue differently.
“Whether at the presidential level or at the local level, this election offers a stark choice,” she tells Milieu. “Republicans promise to make life more expensive and more restrictive for women by fighting tooth and nail against an equal pay mandate, and vowing to defund Planned Parenthood [the nonprofit family planning, reproductive health care and sex education services provider] when most of its services are geared towards preventative care and cancer screenings, just to cite two examples.”
Women’s issues could be key to who wins the First District Congressional race on the East End, which is a rematch pitting Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton), against millionaire entrepreneur Randy Altschuler, who lost a nail-biter to the incumbent by 593 votes in 2010. Which party holds that seat may determine who gains the House majority next year given what’s in play now.
“The Republicans’ platform would force a woman to carry a child to term who was conceived in rape—it doesn’t get more extreme and more cruel than that,” says Robert Pierce, Bishop’s campaign spokesman. “Randy Altschuler and his Tea Party allies in Congress are fighting to restrict a woman’s access to contraception and other family-planning resources. People can call these policies a ‘war on women’ or an assault on their rights. I’m not too interested in coming up with names for it other than calling it what it is: extreme. While the Democrats are fighting to put workers back on the job with legislation such as the highway bill, Republicans are busy trying to craft new ways to put a rapist’s rights over a victim’s rights.”
Altschuler is also pro-life but certainly not anti-woman, Diana Weir, his campaign manager, tells Milieu. In his corner is the National Right to Life PAC, while Bishop may be getting some support down the line from pro-choice groups.
The difference between the two presidential candidates is crystal clear, considering that Romney has said, if elected, he would de-fund Planned Parenthood, while President Barack Obama is pro-choice and opposes “any constitutional amendment to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision” in Roe v. Wade. When Obama was a senator, he co-sponsored legislation to expand access to contraception and health services to “help reduce unintended pregnancies.”
So, is there a war on women?
Depends who you ask.
*As seen in the September/October 2012 issue of Milieu