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Rape: More than a women’s issue

We must use our votes to stop the madness

Elayne Clift writes about women, politics, and social issues.

Saxtons River

You can tell a lot about a person or a political party by what they think about women and how they treat them.

For those folks still undecided about whom to support on Nov. 6, here are some startling facts that might help.

During the 112th Congress, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted 55 times to undermine women’s health, roll back women’s rights, and defund programs and institutions that provide health care and support for women.

In a recent column in Maine’s Journal Tribune, historian and writer Maureen McDermott Gill documented this fact and more.

“The public record shows that the 112th Congress has averaged one anti-woman vote for every week it’s been in session since January 2011,” Gill pointed out. Of the 55 votes against women and children, she laid out the myriad ways Republicans have been harmful to — and hateful of — women.

These votes include allowing health insurance companies to charge women higher premiums than men and denying women coverage based on “pre-existing conditions” like pregnancy.

There have been votes against ensuring women access to crucial preventive care and contraception, votes to eliminate federal funds for reproductive and maternal health care, votes to cut nutritional programs for women, infants, and children, votes to mess with Medicare and Medicaid, votes against the Violence Against Women Act and the Paycheck Fairness Act, and, of course, votes restricting women’s legal access to abortion.

* * *

Then there is what Republicans — both men and women — have said about rape, which let us remember is a hideously traumatic and violent crime. Here are just a few stunners, gathered on a website,

• Newt Gingrich, defending Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s hideous comment that rape is something God intended, advised women to “get over it.”

• Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, said rape was just another method of conception. He also said he was “very proud” of the “forcible rape” bill he co-sponsored with Rep. Todd Akin, who is trying to best Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

• Some of the comments about rape flying out of the mouths of Republicans beg disbelief, starting with Todd Akin. He famously said that victims of “legitimate rape” don’t get pregnant.

• Then there is Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who claims that he’s “never heard of a girl getting pregnant from statutory rape or incest.”

• South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley called battered and raped women “distractions.”

• Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, generously offered that victims of “honest rape” should be able to get an abortion.

• Former Sen. Rick Santorum, on the other hand, believes that rape victims should just “make the best of a bad situation.”

The list goes on.

As Thomas Friedman made clear in a recent commentary in The New York Times, “These were not slips of the tongue. These are the authentic voices of an ever-more-assertive far-right Republican base that is intent on using uncompromising positions on abortion to not only unseat more centrist Republicans [...] but to overturn the mainstream consensus in America on this issue.”

Does anyone really need to know more?

* * *

What we must understand in this crucial election is that the even larger issue here is this: When reproduction is politicized and brought under the control of the state, it is only a matter of time before production, civic responsibilities, and personal liberties also become the purview of the state.

That frightening reality constitutes oligarchy and makes rape comments and reproductive rights serious stuff, not something that can be ghettoized as “women’s issues” that appear far less important than “jobs and the economy.”

We are casting our votes for nothing less that life, liberty, and — yes — compassionate liberalism, versus dangerous and destructive lunacy.

We absolutely must stop the madness that could await us when we vote on Nov. 6.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #176 (Wednesday, October 31, 2012).

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