Abortion was the most important election issue for women, but not really

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Congressman Todd Akin to a higher power: What do you mean women arent superhuman?
  • AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
  • Congressman Todd Akin to a higher power: "What do you mean women aren't superhuman?"
It’s no small relief that the end of this campaign season means we get to say goodbye—at least temporarily—to the sometimes phony, sometimes offensive courtship of that most coveted voting block: women.

The minds of women were puzzled over throughout this election cycle, even by other women (“there’s little consensus on which issues and priorities we collectively care about”). But really, women are not that mysterious.

So . . . what should we take away from the past six months of politicians trying to pin us down and pollsters trying to read our minds? For starters, many of us could have used a break from the inane discussion about whether the issue of abortion really matters as we choose our next president. Of course it does. It’s just that few people seem to understand why.

Women in 12 key swing states who were asked in a recent Gallup poll “What do you consider the most important issue for women in this election?” placed abortion at the top of the list—at nearly double the rate they cited their next most important issue: jobs. (Men ranked jobs first, the economy second.)

This poll must have been surprising to one snarky letter-writer from Berkeley, California, who complained to the Washington Post about “the general coverage of the role of ‘women’s issues’ in this election.”

“Women care about things besides abortion and birth control, because women have purposes besides reproduction,” the woman wrote.

Yes, it just so happens that women do care about other things. And women indeed have other purposes. Because we have those other purposes—and because there’s a shortage of people who understand how abortion plays into that—women have been faced with several painful reminders this year of why abortion continues to be important in elections.

Among those painful reminders: women have some pretty serious physical limitations, and politicians can’t seem to come to terms with them. For instance: despite what some pols will have you believe, women, while pregnant, are not able to conjure up immunity to life-threatening medical emergencies, nor do we have superhuman powers that prevent pregnancy during a rape. In fact, women must spend a lot of time thinking about how to protect themselves from congressmen who hold those fanciful views.

Most women who care about things other than abortion also know that women are being used as a tool by pundits and columnists (including fellow women!) trying to make the case that abortion is overpoliticized and therefore not as important an issue as everyone is making it out to be. “I find the Democrats’ one-track appeal to women demeaning,” Carol Baum wrote last week for Bloomberg. “Democrats, in their own way, are doing exactly what they accuse Republicans of doing: waging a war on women—on our brains, not our bodies. They are treating us as if we’re too narrow-minded to see beyond abortion.”

I know. But hold on. I actually agree with Baum on another point she makes: “What women want isn’t that different from what men want: a job that pays well and offers opportunities for advancement; a good education for our children; access to health care; a government that protects our inalienable rights and keeps us safe.”

Absolutely.

But women being treated by Dems (or by anyone) as if we can’t “see beyond abortion”? That’s not the problem. The problem is that others are unable to see beyond the horror of abortion to understand that, sadly, access to that procedure helps ensure that women are granted an equal chance to reach the very goals that Baum affirms we share with men: “a job that pays well and offers opportunities for advancement.” An unexpected pregnancy can prevent a woman from finding that job or enjoying those opportunities. An unexpected pregnancy will rarely if ever keep a man from those things.

One of the most reasonable examinations of abortion as it relates to a woman’s economic opportunities comes from Bryce Covert at the Nation, who, after discussing the abortion-as-most-important-election-issue Gallup findings, went on to say:

[W]omen don’t tend to vote based on their own unique set of issues, social or otherwise. . . . Yet it’s also important to remember that the ability to access contraception and make choices over one’s body has a huge economic impact on women’s lives. In a 2004 survey of over 1,200 abortion patients, the Guttmacher Institute found that women’s most frequently cited reasons for seeking abortion were that having a child would interfere with education, work or the ability to care for dependents or that she couldn’t afford a baby. . . .

Little wonder when the costs of having a child are so high: raising a 1-year-old in a middle-class, two-parent household comes to over $15,000 a year. When women tell pollsters that abortion and government policies relating to contraception are high on their minds in this economy, those concerns can’t easily be divorced from “traditional” economic issues.

This sounds crass because it is crass, but I’ll say it anyway: an unplanned pregnancy is not terribly different from being forced to take a $15,000 annual pay cut (as opposed to saving up for a planned expense, if you're financially able to). Having to absorb that pay cut—on top of having to miss weeks if not months work and then struggling with the sort of schedule that might get you passed over for a promotion—sounds a lot like an economic setback. It sounds a lot like the kind of reasoning a woman might employ when she ranks “abortion” above “jobs” as the most important issue in this election.

It’s not that abortion really matters more. It’s that equality does.

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