"I like Transvaginal," said a woman on a comedy show. "I fly that airline every chance I get." It's becoming a new part of the national vocabulary. Virginia's Bob McDonnell cannot have wanted to be known as the transvaginal Governor.
The abortion debate has long provided Republicans with a wedge issue. Wedge issues are those in which majority opinion falls on one side, but advantage falls on the other. Intensity is great among the minority, and that intensity happens to fall heavily on those who are in a position to switch their votes.
It does matter electorally if voters for candidate A will be voting for him with more intensity than those who will be voting for candidate B. It affects voter turnout. Highly committed voters are more likely to vote. But if an issue appeals strongly enough to those who usually would vote for candidate B so that a significant number switch their votes to candidate A, that matters a lot more. Every switched vote does double duty, increasing votes for one candidate, while decreasing votes for the other.
Abortion is an issue that sometimes does that. Working folks who are quite religious, for example, might view life as beginning at conception. They might feel strongly enough to vote for someone who would not appeal to them in any other way.
Wedge issue voters are usually single issue voters. They will vote against their economic interests our of principle. The majority believe decisively but not with enough passion to change their votes.
Although abortion was one such issue, there have been others.
Gun control has been such an issue. The majority of Americans favor some regulation of firearms, if only to keep murderous firepower out of the hands of small children and maniacs.
Until recently Obamacare was such an issue. Although polls show a plurality of voters still don't like the new health care insurance system, only a minority want to see it abolished. Those who support it become a majority when combined with those whose criticism is that it does not go far enough. But abolitionists were able to peel off just enough in the last election to build a powerful force.
Abortion has been an issue waged in theory until laws come close to fruition. When viewed in principle, it becomes impossible to find a position that does not approach absurdity. I cannot come down on the side of making women's rights subordinate to those of a zygote. But I recognize that I cannot escape the same lapse of sense of anyone who attempts to draw a rational line. Such an environment gives more weight to intensity.
But when regulation of abortion comes to what it must come to, the brutal treatment of women, stark reality takes hold.
Our own United States Senator from here in Missouri, Roy Blunt, has taken the debate several giant leaps beyond even the abortion debate. In the name of religious freedom, he proposed a bill that gathered support from nearly half the Senate.
The bill would have required insurance companies providing group insurance to get approval from employers if those were religious institutions, before providing birth control coverage to women employees.
The bill would have required insurance companies providing group insurance to get approval from employers even if they were not were religious institutions, before providing birth control coverage to women employees. The employer could stop coverage of contraceptives even if the objection was not religious, but simply one of principle.
In fact, if any employer objected to any coverage on the basis of conscience, a woman would be denied coverage. In fact, female employees, male employees, spouses, or children, would be denied coverage of any medical procedure or prescription medication if an employer objected.
Employers would be given control, by exercise of corporate conscience, over individual decisions. Women would bear the brunt.
Republicans are presenting it as a religious freedom issue. It is possible to agree with them only by defining freedom of religion as the spiritual right of any corporation to instruct employees on coverage of the most personal matters. Medical coverage is now to depend on permission slips from the boss.
The religious argument gives way to sexual antagonism as Rush Limbaugh weighs in.
What does it say about the college co-ed Susan Fluke who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex -- what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She's having so much sex she can't afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.
Rush has become the ostensible head of the Republican Party, at least to this extent: Conservative officeholders who disagreed with him have had to abase themselves publicly in servile repentance.
It would be wrong to automatically smear opponents with the words of allies. The opportunity for Republicans to denounce or disassociate themselves from such talk is only fair. So far no Republican office holder has taken that opportunity, but today is another day. Perhaps by tonight? Or tomorrow night? Or next week?
If the idea of drastically increasing regulation of women's health is to become a wedge issue, convincing voters to switch allegiance, the intensity is undeniable. It is easy to envision voters changing sides.
It is only difficult to imagine those votes flowing in any direction except away from Republicans, the imagined political party of aspirins and chastity belts.
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