Women flex muscle at the polls

Republicans suffer for insensitive comments about rape, abortion

November 07, 2012|Susan Reimer

Congratulations, ladies. You kept the barbarians from the gate.

On Tuesday, Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, who famously said that a woman's reproductive system shuts down during "legitimate rape" and prevents conception, lost by 15 points to incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who was considered an easy target by the tea party. She won women voters ages 18 to 44 overwhelmingly.

And Richard Mourdock, who said that if a woman does become pregnant during rape, it is something that God intended, lost the Indiana Senate race to Joe Donnelly. The vote was even among men, but Mr. Donnelly carried women by 10 points.

The two losses, in states that Republican challenger Mitt Romney won, helped deny the GOP the Senate majority it so coveted.

In Pennsylvania, Sen. Bob Casey easily defeated Republican challenger Tom Smith in what had been a tight race. Mr. Smith seemed to say that having a child out of wedlock is similar to becoming pregnant from rape.

And Illinois' Republican Congressman Joe Walsh lost to Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs when her Black Hawk helicopter was shot down. Mr. Walsh said during a debate that abortion to save the life of the mother was a ploy, and that medical science had in all cases found ways to cure what ails her without harming the fetus.

He also said that "true heroes" don't talk about their military service as readily as Major Duckworth had, failing to note that her artificial legs are difficult to ignore.

And, oh yeah — we re-elected President Barack Obama.

Exit polls reported Mr. Obama had a 10 to 12 percentage point advantage among women, which more than offset his deficit among men, reported to be about 7 points. But that was not a surprise. Women are generally solidly in the Democratic camp, they make up 53 percent of the electorate, and they are more likely to vote than men.

What warms the heart is the fact that Mr. Akin, Mr. Smith, Mr. Mourdock and Mr. Walsh lost not because women voters are in the tank for Democrats. They lost — each by substantial margins in what were considered to be tight races — because women reacted with anger to their insensitive and uninformed pontifications on our reproductive systems, something about which we are kind of proprietary.

Whatever women may think about abortion — and we are not of one mind — we get our backs up when men start yapping about how it all works and "that time of the month." We'd be insulted if we weren't so infuriated.

Exit polling showed that the economy was on the mind of nearly every voter, man or woman. But reproductive control is an economic issue for women as much as it might be a moral one for men like Mr. Akin, Mr. Walsh, Mr. Smith or Mr. Mourdock.

Contraception has allowed two generations of women to plan their child-bearing around education and work and to control the size of the family for which they hope to provide. Nothing is more bedrock economic than the number of mouths you must feed and when they arrive.

Women could not help but feel threatened by a Republican Party that not only seeks to ban abortion but is also opposed to health insurance reforms that provide preventative care and that advocates cutting funds to services like Planned Parenthood that provide care for poor women and women who live in remote areas.

I am pleased that women turned out in such numbers to re-elect the president. I don't know if he can kick-start this economy, but I do know that he won't betray me in the exam room.

But I am most impressed with of the women in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Missouri. They voted with fire in their eyes.

Susan Reimer's column appears on Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun.com and @Susan Reimer on Twitter.

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