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Ann Romney defines the election -- just not views on contraception

September 10, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • Ann Romney at the Republican National Convention
Ann Romney at the Republican National Convention (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)

Ann Romney declined to answer questions, in an interview on Iowa TV, about her views on birth control and same-sex marriage, saying that such issues weren’t what the presidential election would be about and that this wasn’t what American women cared much about. She has a point, to a limited extent. These are certainly not the most-talked-about issues; the economy is.

But it would be a mistake to narrow the campaign to one solely about tax rates and whether corporations should be subject to rigorous laws concerning environmental and consumer protection and expenditures on Medicare. Access to reproductive care, abortion rights and same-sex marriage should be particularly important parts of the discussion. That’s because key decisions about these matters—perhaps even the inherent right of a woman to choose an abortion in early pregnancy—will be decided over and over again by courts in the next several years, probably including the U.S. Supreme Court. And there is a reasonable chance that the president for the next four years will get to make at least one appointment to the high court, not to mention naming numerous other federal judges. The constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, is also likely to be heard by the Supreme Court in the not-distant future.

Right now, there appears to be a close-to-even ideological split on the nation’s high court. The retirement of a single justice, and a presidential replacement for that justice, could make a big difference.

The Republican platform calls for a ban on all abortion, making no exceptions for the health of the woman or cases of rape and incest. Mitt Romney has said he would allow for exceptions in such cases, but what of the right of women facing a pregnancy that they simply cannot handle for all sorts of other reasons—economic, social and so forth? That, Romney says, is a matter for the courts. Exactly.

If Ann Romney is right and women’s reproductive rights, and the civil rights of gays and lesbians, are not an issue on the electorate’s mind, or on women’s minds, then they should be.  (Though I find it hard to believe that stumping on one party’s campaign trail gives Ann Romney serious expertise on American women as a whole; polls show that women consider health coverage for contraception, for example, to be a very important issue.) The economic reports will change each month; a U.S. Supreme Court decision freezes law for decades or even longer.

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