A recent New York Times article announced that President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is launching an intensified attempt to gain support among women, timed to coincide with the two-year anniversary of Obama’s signing of the health care law. Among other efforts, the campaign will launch “Nurses for Obama,” on March 14, an initiative to engage nurses as advocates for the law. Obama’s decision to reach out to women comes at a moment when women’s reproductive rights have been under repeated assault from conservatives across the country, leaving women outraged and reluctant to vote for any of the Republican nominees.
Since January 2012, when the Obama administration announced the requirement that health insurance plans offer birth control free of charge, conservatives have engaged in a vicious backlash against women. Republican state legislators are making it more difficult for women to exercise the right to choose by pushing forward state-level anti-abortion laws.
In February, the Texas Health and Human Services commissioner signed a rule that formally bans Planned Parenthood clinics and other affiliates of abortion providers from participating in the program. This law will potentially shut down the Women’s Health Program, which provides health care to more than 130,000 impoverished women.
On March 7, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a bill that requires women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before they can legally have an abortion. In response, women across the country are protesting that this invasive procedure is no different from sexual assault.
Obama’s health care reform law is also under attack at the federal-level. Senator Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) sponsored a controversial amendment to override the law by allowing employers to refuse to provide birth coverage for “specific items or services” if the coverage was deemed “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan.” Although the amendment was narrowly defeated on March 1, it demonstrates that conservatives are trying to turn an issue related to women’s health into one of religious freedom.
If these regressive legislative measures aren’t enough, conservative radio show host Rush Limbaugh’s personal attack of Sandra Fluke, a student advocating for health insurance to cover contraception, was the final straw. Limbaugh’s derogatory remarks, which included calling Fluke a “slut,” has inspired women (and men) to speak out against the conservative’s archaic position on contraception. Far from garnering support for anti-abortion groups, Limbaugh’s remarks have inspired women to assert their reproductive rights — and they will choose a president who enables them to do the same.
In the light of these events, Obama’s pro-choice position will provide a critical boost to his re-election campaign. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll in mid-February showed that women’s approval of Obama has gone up by 53% to 38% (from 48% to 46% in January). A president who advocates for women’s access to contraception instead of one who limits their freedom appeals to women across the political spectrum.
Moderate Republicans and independent women are losing faith that any of the Republican candidates will take a progressive position on women’s rights, evidence that the “war against women” is backfiring. Young women starting their careers will vote for their independence and for the right to choose whether or when they will become mothers. They will fight for Sandra Fluke, because no woman, regardless of her political beliefs, will tolerate being called a "slut." Without ignoring other issues, Obama has an excellent opportunity to build a tangible support base and set a precedent that will impact women’s rights far beyond this election.
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