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Complexity of women’s rights issues in election provokes strong reactions across campus, country

Published: Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 08:10



Candidates took strong stances on the role of the federal government in funding Planned Parenthood.


Women have a huge stake in this election. With President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney taking such different stances on issues such as funding for women’s healthcare, equalizing women’s wages and abortion, an influential female demographic will be instrumental in the election’s outcome.

In every presidential election since 1964, the number of female voters has exceeded the number of male voters, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. Moreover, the proportion of eligible female voters that hit the polls has surpassed that of male voters in each election since 1980. With this in mind, women will be paying close attention to the issues that affect them most directly.

These issues most recently entered the election’s discourse during the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate, when Vice President Joe Biden and vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) faced off on the subject of abortion.

Ryan immediately made the Romney campaign’s position very clear: “The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortions with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.”

This is slightly different than Ryan’s personal views — a fact Biden did not neglect to mention.

“In the past, he has argued that there was — there’s rape and forcible rape,” Biden said. “He’s argued that in the case of rape or incest ... it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend.”

Associate Professor of Political Science Deborah Schildkraut commented on this disconnect.

“Ryan found himself having to say ‘in this administration,’ rather than ‘this is what I would do,’” Schildkraut said. “He, by being chosen as [the vice president] has to advocate for the policies that would be enacted by the president, rather than necessarily what he would do if he got the chance. So that puts the Republicans in a slightly more divided and awkward position than the Democrats.”

Despite this rift, the differences between the two parties are clear: Obama supports the right for women to have an abortion, while Romney thinks this option should be available only in specific circumstances.

This is clearly outlined on both candidates’ official websites, with Romney’s stating that “he believes the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade” — a historical Supreme Court case that removed many state and federal regulations on abortion — and “as president, he will end federal funding for abortion advocates like Planned Parenthood.”

Although Obama’s website does not directly mention the issue of abortion, it comprehensively states: “President Obama believes a woman’s health care choices are personal decisions, best made with her doctor — without interference from politicians.”

Sophomore Ruby Vail, head of Tufts Voices for Choices (VOX), maintains that a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental viewpoint taken both by her personally and by VOX, which is an affiliate group of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.

“I think that everyone is entitled to the right to choose — that you should be able to decide when you’re going to have a child and become a parent,” Vail said.

According to junior Aliza Gordon, the Planned Parenthood liaison for Tufts VOX, the group does not receive direct financial support. Vail does not think that a cut in federal funding to Planned Parenthood would be disastrous for the existence of the group on campus.

“If Planned Parenthood were to be shut down, the group would still be on campus because there’s more than enough interest. But it would obviously be a different group,” she said.

Director of the Women’s Center Steph Gauchel described the possible implications of reduced funding for Planned Parenthood, not just in terms of abortion but other services as well.

“It seems important to think about the broad spectrum of resources and healthcare that Planned Parenthood can provide,” she said. “It’s not just going to nip abortion in the bud, but it’s going to remove access for women in terms of healthcare needs.”

According to figures compiled by Planned Parenthood in 2009, abortions only comprise three percent of all services provided. Beyond abortion, 70 percent of the services are for contraception and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing and treatment and 16 percent are allocated to cancer prevention.

Dean of Academic Affairs for Arts and Sciences Nancy Bauer expressed concern for the often-misinterpreted role of Planned Parenthood.

“Planned Parenthood is associated with being an abortion factory, but it’s anything but. Many women rely on it for most of their gynecological healthcare,” Bauer said. “A lot of young women rely very heavily on Planned Parenthood to help them through the confusing years of coming to understand their sexuality, especially if they are heterosexual.”

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