Op-Ed by Kate Michelman and Carol Tracy, appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, December 9, 2012
That Mitt Romney was stunned by his defeat says much about his and others’ blindness to the divergent forces that carried Barack Obama to victory.
Imagine the bitter truths they must confront as the nature of the electorate becomes clear. The demographic realities that shaped the victory gave joy to those of us who have been ignored, belittled, and targeted by the conservative right. The very women, youth, people of color, gays and lesbians they assumed to be at the margins of national politics had their revenge. And, yes, we voted for “liberal” causes, obvious rights that have been denied for too long by the people who saw the country through out- of- date lenses.
Women, in particular, claimed our rights in bold print. More women turned out to vote than men. We were the largest deciding block in Obama’s victory (11 points over Romney). We left absolutely no doubt that we demand and deserve equal rights: equal pay, an end to pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment, better family health care, paid leave, and broad access to contraception. At t he t op of t he list: Government should have no part in a woman’s reproductive decisions. Choice. It’s what most women demand for all women. An exit poll revealed that Americans believe abortion should be legal, 59 percent to 36 percent.
We had a great day. We won a solid and lasting protection against discrimination and political harassment. The national vote said it all.
The national vote, while worthy of high-fives all round, is hardly the end of our struggle for women’s rights. When conservatives lose a decisive battle at the federal level, they redouble their efforts at the state and local levels. And they’ve already made that clear in Ohio. A few days after the election the legislature defunded Planned Parenthood.
Facing vetoes from the White House and having no hope of stacking the Supreme Court, pro-life advocates will become much more aggressive at the state levels. Their targets: governors (30 Republicans), Republican-controlled legislatures, and local governments and institutions, including hospital boards, PTAs, even library boards. They are particularly focused on judicial appointments.
Women showed our force in checking the war on women. But don’t be deceived; the war goes on. Only the battlefields change.
Consider some of their recent legislative gains across the nation. Parental disclosure. Ultrasound tests. Showing a woman the X-rays of her unborn. Preprocedure lectures. Shutting down clinics by needlessly raising architectural standards. Forcing women farther afield to find a clinic. The list goes on.
Extreme conservatives can’t roll back Roe v. Wade, but they can and will try to crawl beneath the radar of broad publicity with seemingly innocuous ways to shame us, to deny our rights and our equality. They will count on our satisfaction in winning the White House to soon give way to apathy. To ignore their zeal is to risk forfeiting our hard-fought gains.
To exercise their power in ways that affect their lives and health, women must educate themselves about the values and policy views of decision-makers at every level. In many cases, the decisions that have the biggest impact are made by officials who often don’t attract much attention.
The country is served well by national organizations, but today the greater need is at the state and local levels — to make effective use of traditional and social media and grassroots efforts to profile candidates and encourage women to be aware, to choose, and to vote.
The best of these information groups include both Republicans and Democrats. They may or may not endorse candidates. Their objective is to keep vigilance over all manner of issues affecting women in that state, to share solid information, and to demand accountability from those who threaten our rights.
The only way women will continue our advance toward equality and privacy is to be aware — to take the time not just to understand the forces trying to take back our recent gains, but to make the time to fight back.
Kate Michelman is co-chair of WomenVote PA, president emerita of NARAL Pro-Choice America, and author of “With Liberty and Justice for All: A Life Spent Protecting the Right to Choose.”
Carol E. Tracy is co-chair of WomenVote PA, an initiative of the Women’s Law Project, and Executive Director of the Women’s Law Project.