Alabama Republican delegate Jackie Curtiss learned a hard lesson earlier this month in Tampa. The national Republican Party is not interested in keeping its tent open for folks who believe in birth control or abortion in the case of rape. Curtiss, a 22-year-old self-professed conservative, had the temerity to question why the Republican health subcommittee was adding language to the platform that would rule out abortion in all cases, including rape.
Curtiss' impassioned plea was met with silence from the committee, as party notables, including Phyllis Schlafly, James Bopp and Tony Perkins, subsequently rammed through the most restrictive anti-choice language in the history of Republican politics. No longer would the Republican Party respect a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy that results from rape or incest.
On Tuesday night former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum continued that theme — spending a good deal of his time at the convention rostrum lecturing women on the evils of abortion and failure to marry.
But it wasn’t always this way. It may be hard for today’s young Republicans to believe, but the Republican Party, not the Democratic Party, was the original political partner of Planned Parenthood.
At Wednesday’s Planned Parenthood rally in Julian Lane Park, longtime Republican activist Randy Moody reminded a crowd of nearly 200 supporters about the shared history of Planned Parenthood and the Republican party. He pointed out that none other than the godfather of the party's conservative wing — the late Senator and presidential candidate Barry Goldwater — led the fight to establish a Planned Parenthood chapter in Arizona. At the federal level, a Republican president, Richard Nixon, signed the nation’s first federal family planning bill into law in 1970.
Moody blames his party’s hard right turn on women’s health issues on the religious intolerance sown during Reagan and Bush presidencies for short-term political gain. Ironically, both men had at one time been pro-choice. As governor of California, Reagan signed into law a liberal abortion rights bill which increased legal abortions from 518 in 1967 to over 100,000 in 1968 and opened the floodgates on legalized abortion in California. Bush, as a young Texas congressman, sponsored the nation’s first federal family planning bill.
So is the Republican Party beyond repair when it comes to women’s reproductive health? Moody doesn’t think so, pointing out that Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s very public pronouncement that women don’t need to worry about pregnancy when they are raped has begun to wake up some Republican women. But recent events show that Moody and his fellow pro-choice Republicans may be whistling in the dark when it comes to any positive movement to a more reasonable platform during the next four years.
It appears that Mitt Romney — who was himself, to paraphrase John Kerry, “for abortion, before he was against it” — is uninterested in pushing back against the religious zealots in his party who ultimately want to outlaw all forms of contraception. The fact that he chose Paul Ryan — whose views on women’s health are regarded by Moody (and many others) as indiscernible from fellow Republican Akin — is a clear sign that Romney has taken a page out of the Reagan-Bush pandering playbook, shoring up religious voters at the expense of women’s reproductive freedom.
Retired pediatrician Lynn Ringenberg, who was attending her first Planned Parenthood rally, wondered where the attacks on women are coming from.
Sadly for those like Ringenberg who support abortion and contraception rights, the attack may soon originate from the Office of the Vice President.
Barry Goldwater must be rolling in his grave.