Abortion rights could decide the election

Illustration by Kelsey Skordal

THE STATS:

Likely female voters in the top 12 swing states believe abortion is the most important issue to them in the election. These results are based on an Oct. 21 USA Today/Gallup poll among registered voters in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

Forty percent of female respondents listed abortion as the #1 issue facing women in this election, compared to less than 1 percent of men. Over twice as many women listed abortion than listed jobs as the most important issue, and both health care and equal pay fell behind as well, with 18 percent and 15 percent of the vote, respectively.

Most polls show that women are more likely to vote for Obama than Romney by a two-to-one margin. Women are likely to determine this election, as they always do. Women made up over 51 percent of the electorate in 2008 and, because of the intensified assault on women’s rights, that number is likely to grow significantly.

Unmarried women voted for Obama in 2008 by a 70-to-29 percent margin, more than Hispanics and 18- to 24-year-old voters. These unmarried women voters joined with younger voters and people of color to create what the highly trusted GQR research center called a “new American electorate” — voters with a decided preference for liberal candidates.

 

WHY WOMEN VOTE:

There is a historic assault on women’s reproductive rights that is affecting women in states nationwide. And restrictions on abortion (and contraception, for that matter) don’t go unnoticed by the female electorate.

In Michelle Chen’s groundbreaking Salon.com article, published last week, she revealed that 1,100 bills targeted reproductive rights last year alone. Of those 1,100, a whopping 135 were passed in a total of 36 states. A law in Texas, intentionally crafted to worsen the experience of an abortion, mandates that doctors not only show women ultrasounds of their fetuses, but if a woman averts her eyes, the doctor must give an extensive and highly scripted description of the fetus.

And 2012 is no different. Ten state legislatures have introduced new measures for pre-abortion counseling and waiting periods. Eighteen states have introduced bills for ultrasound requirements this year.

 

Q&A WITH AN ABORTION PROVIDER:

My mother, Dr. Linda Prine, an abortion provider and founder of the national Reproductive Health Access Project, sat down with me to share her take on the matter.

Why do you think the abortion rate in New York State is the highest in the country?

Two reasons: poverty and lack of anti-abortion restrictions. First, poor women are the one group who continue to have a rising abortion rate because they cannot get the most effective birth control methods, or even the moderately effective methods due to their high cost. Second, the lack of restrictive laws means New York State allows teens to get abortions without parental consent, has no 24-hour waiting periods, has no mandatory sonogram laws and so forth – all of the items that make it harder in other states across the country.

How have anti-abortion laws affected your out-of-state colleagues?

Their patients have much less access to abortion services, so the procedures tend to be later and more expensive. And then women just can’t afford it or can’t travel the distances needed to go in and sign a consent form 24 hours before and then travel back the next day. Additionally, many of the docs have to read mandated scripts that are medically inaccurate. They have to tell women things like “abortion causes breast cancer” when it’s not true. A recent opinion piece was published in the New England Journal of Medicine saying that physicians need to have freedom of speech: the freedom to speak the truth to patients. Crazy, huh?

Do you believe the anti-choice movement is winning the reproductive rights battle?

I think the pendulum swings back and forth all the time. Because politics seems to get metered out in sound bites, we have periods, like after Akin made his horrible comments, where women’s awareness of the horrible attitudes of the “pro-life” politicians gets raised. And then other times where laws get passed that many in the public don’t seem to really understand have implications for women’s access to birth control and abortion.

Why do you believe women consider abortion the most important issue in 2012?

Abortion is both a social justice and economic justice issue. If women can’t be free to decide when in their own lives they are going to have children and when they are not, they will stay second-class citizens. Teens who have babies while in high school have almost no chance of going to college and their children also have a high likelihood of being raised in poverty. The most important predictor of the success of a child is the educational level of the mother. So, when we hold back young women by making it impossible for them to access an abortion, we mess with many, many people’s lives and futures.

 

If abortions are made illegal, many women will do their best to find ways to get them done regardless. Many of these women would die getting illegal, unsafe, and unsanitary abortions. More than 4 in 10 American women get an abortion in their lifetime. So many women who have not had an abortion realize there is a great possibility that they might be in a situation where they need one. Most women, whether they’ve gotten an abortion or not, realize it is essential that this choice is always on the table.

 

Mitt Romney wants to take that choice off the table, and women will vote on November 6 to prevent him from doing so. Women will determine the election and abortion is what matters to them most. For good reason, they will re-elect Barack Obama.

Sam Smith

Commentary and Debate Editor

The Catalyst

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