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The stark contrast between the party platforms, policy positions and campaign rhetoric underscore how much is at stake for women in the fall election. While much of the Republican rhetoric last week in Tampa might have sounded good on the surface, the underlying verbal gymnastics and language-parsing serve to distract women from policies that would more broadly weaken our rights and the progress we’ve made towards equality.

mitt flip flop

Vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan led the push to distance the GOP from Missouri Congressman Todd Akin’s absurd comments about “legitimate” rape and assertion that women have a magical power to prevent a rapist’s sperm from impregnating her, which angered many across the political spectrum. Attempting to cast Akin as an outlier in his party, his comments gave Americans a close look at the extremism that has overtaken the Republican Party.

Not only have elected Republicans across our country espoused equally disgusting positions — such as the idea that few pregnancies result from rape, or that women are so conniving as to view rape as a loophole to be exploited in order to have the legal procedure of abortion — Ryan has himself co-sponsored the most extreme anti-choice, anti-women’s freedom legislation with Akin, legislation that promoted the long-fought myth that women are “asking for it” or “changed her mind” after the fact by including classifications like “forcible” rape.

But now that we are in a general election, having Ryan lead the charge allows Mitt Romney to have it both ways on an issue where he can’t afford to anger an extreme base that already doesn’t trust him, or turn off the moderate and independent voters he also needs to win. After Ryan’s comments about how his views on abortion differ from Romney’s in terms of exceptions, and the passage of the GOP platform that included no exceptions, Romney was finally willing to answer questions about Akin’s comments. In an interview with CBS, the GOP nominee reiterated his latest position — that he opposes abortion but supports exceptions in the case of rape, incest and the life of the mother — and included a new caveat, for the health of the mother. His campaign quickly backtracked via a spokesman, recognizing that anti-choice groups (and lawmakers, including Paul Ryan) view the health exception as creating a “loophole” for abortion care.

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Romney the “extreme” conservative has essentially gotten a pass on yet another obvious contradiction: his support for ultra-extreme and ultra-unpopular personhood amendments that allow absolutely no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. Are we to believe his legally impossible position, that he would support personhood except in the case where a woman was raped?

Democrats have a clear message, supported by action, to women this week in Charlotte: we don’t just love you, we trust you. Rather than using rhetoric to try and divide these issues and divide women, they are interconnected. Because if you believe a woman can’t be trusted to make good decisions about her healthcare or the medicines she takes, how can you truly respect her as the CEO of a fortune 500 company, as secretary of State, a senator, or a leader of a major news organization?

Or, as my former boss, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, so eloquently stated many years ago, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard.”

karen finney

Karen Finney

The Hill

Posted: Thursday, 6 September 2012