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The repression of choice

The campaign of 2012 has been justly focused on the terrible economy and the creation of new jobs. However, because of the focus on this issue alone, the election has been markedly devoid of talk on “women’s issues”. Even though a certain Vice Presidential candidate has voted against the ability for women to make health decisions for themselves, these issues have been mysteriously absent from discussion.

To speak of issues concerning birth control, sexual violence, abortion, child care, and equal pay as “women’s issues,” politicians and voters shift the responsibility for these to women and women only. By shifting the responsibility to women, an issue that really concerns the entire nation seems to only affect half of the population. When voters do not see a direct connection between themselves and an issue, they tend to vote in the way that is easiest and saves money for “more important” issues. Voting was established for the population to make clear which issues mattered to them and which ones would affect them, meaning that issues concerning the majority of the population would rightly receive more attention and funding. However, when there are misconceptions about what issues actually affect the population, voters will vote in a way that only represents their conceptions about what affects them without a full understanding.

“Women’s issues” affect everyone. Women make up half the workforce. Unintended pregnancies take a toll on society as a whole, especially taxpayers. More fathers are stay-at-home dads. “Women’s issues” are clearly not women’s issues. They’re everyone’s issues. Because they’re everyone’s issues, all voters must educate themselves on the candidates and their takes on these issues. Paul Ryan, the Republican Vice Presidential nominee, has particularly strong opinions about abortion and funding for Planned Parenthood. Barack Obama also has strong opinions about reproductive rights, but does not go quite as far as many would like him to. Obama has been outspoken about allowing women the right to choose, but has bowed to pressure from conservative voters, leading to his actions being much more moderate than initially planned. Voters have an obligation to research the candidate’s views on issues of women’s health and choice, lest they vote for a candidate that does not have their best interests in mind.

Paul Ryan’s record on women’s health and freedom of choice come to mind because of the media surrounding Paul Ryan that’s been led by women’s rights groups and Planned Parenthood. Ryan co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which declares that a fertilized egg “shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.” This would outlaw all abortion, even in cases when pregnancy would kill the mother and thus the unborn child. For example, ectopic pregnancies, where the fertilized egg rests in the fallopian tube, would not be allowed to be terminated. In these pregnancies, the pregnancy must be terminated or else the mother will die. Furthermore, the mother will die before the child has grown enough to be able to survive outside of the womb. Preventing abortion in this case will kill two people, if you define the fertilized egg as a person. The law would also outlaw some forms of contraception and in-vitro fertilization. This limits a woman’s choice of when and if she wishes to become pregnant.

Paul Ryan also has supported defunding Planned Parenthood. Abortions represent only 3 percent of the total services that Planned Parenthood provides. Furthermore, federal money that Planned Parenthood receives cannot be used for abortion services by law. If the government were to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, it would be cutting off funding for low-income people to receive STI testing and treatment, cancer screening and prevention, and contraception. If low-income women cannot get free contraception, it is likely that they will not be able to get contraception elsewhere, thus resulting in many unwanted pregnancies. Unwanted pregnancies are extremely costly not only to the individual, but to society as a whole, including the taxpayer. This study shows that taxpayers spend about $12 billion a year on unwanted pregnancies. By increasing funding to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that focus on providing contraceptives and family planning services, fewer low-income families would have to rely on taxpayer money for medical expenses and all other costs that come from an unexpected pregnancy. Government-sponsored campaigns to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies would save taxpayers significant amounts of money. The money that goes to family planning centers will be more than made up in taxpayer savings. A party so focused on balancing the budget should pay attention to these numbers and act to reduce the numbers of unwanted pregnancies.

The Democratic Party under Barack Obama has been more moderate than initially planned. The President has been staunchly pro-choice and very openly supports the decision made in Roe v. Wade. In the past four years, however, Obama has drawn criticism from women’s reproductive rights groups. The President signed an order banning the use of federal money for abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or if the pregnancy threatens the life of the mother. Women’s reproductive groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights found this to be insufficient. Furthermore, the Department of Health and Human Services interpreted the health care reform law as requiring religious employers to offer birth control to their employees. The Obama administration gave in to Catholic pressure to shift the burden for providing contraception to insurance companies. These two compromises are the biggest ones made by the Obama administration.

These “women’s issues” affect everyone in the United States, whether a taxpayer, a healthcare provider, low-income, a woman, or a man. The American government needs to focus on providing services to the people and preventing unwanted pregnancies. Insofar as the United States government was created by and for the people, its purpose is then obligated to provide basic services essential to life for its citizens. These include things like security and education. The United States government has gone on to increase the scope of things it provides American citizens, such as infrastructure and programs like Social Security and Medicare. To do this the United States government, both state and federal, needs to provide better sex education, contraceptives, media campaigns, and community programs to ensure that more women make it to adulthood before becoming pregnant. It’s extremely important that American politicians at all levels, led by the presidential candidates, address these issues. Indeed, the U.S. must address these concerns if it is to progress. As voters eagerly watch the campaign until November, they must not only hope that the candidates address these important topics, but must demand it. If not, the United States will become a country that complacently floats through the difficult issues.

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