I hope I wasn't the sole woman in Texas tuned in to last night's US Senate debate. The Republican war on women was on full display as candidates battled to take the most regressive stance on women's health issues. What was clear from the Republican candidates' answers is that all four are staunchly out of touch with what women and Texans think about Planned Parenthood and the Women's Health Program.
As my colleague Ben Sherman reported earlier, the debate was a fairly staid format in which the four leading Republican candidates (David Dewhurst, Ted Cruz, Craig James and Tom Leppert) and the two leading Democratic candidates (Paul Sadler and Sean Hubbard) sat down for a one-on-one with the moderator before engaging in some short Q&A and a bit of brief back-and-forth on the issues of the day. It was during the Q&A that two questions in particular emphasized the degree to which women's reproductive rights and basic access to healthcare have become a political football kicked around like so much special teams practice.
Candidates were asked how they plan to get women to vote for them, and to take a stand on a woman's right to choose. Evidently the Republicans' answer was to patronize women, deny them access to healthcare, and reiterate that women can't make their own medical choices. The responses from the Republicans ranged from laughable to infuriating, as all emphasized their hatred of Planned Parenthood and desire to defund the program that provides services to 40% of women enrolled in Texas's Women's Health Program.
Dewhurst stated that he was asking “all good Republicans to vote for me,” which I guess means he's Ok with independent and Democratic women abandoning him over his whacktacular views on women's issues. He emphasized his work to both defund Planned Parenthood and find state money to continue the WHP without the provider (which is in violation of Federal rules regarding exclusion of qualified providers, but NBD, right?). Leppert followed up that he's also against funding Planned Parenthood, and has strong anti-choice viewpoints. He then actually gave a better answer than the rest of his knuckle-dragging Republican brothers when he noted that he was raised by a single mom and that women were concerned about the economy and job opportunities. Then he said something about women being concerned about career politicians? Eh, get your talking points in where you can, I guess. James emphasized his pro-life credentials. I didn't really take many other notes since his voice makes chunks of my brain drip out of my ears. Sorry.
Ted Cruz had perhaps the most laughable and awful answer, as he claimed that “a significant majority” of women are pro-life. Unfortunately for Cruz, the facts say otherwise: a Rasmussen poll (yes, Ras the Republican polling firm) conducted last month found that 51 percent of women identify as pro-choice, and only 40 percent pro-life. The pro-life tally dropped 3 points since Ras's previous January poll. Thanks for telling us what we ladyfolks think, Ted! Unfortunately you're wrong.
On the Democratic side, our candidates did women right on this issue, standing up for our ability to make informed medical decisions and choose our own healthcare decisions. Sean Hubbard, who had a solid debate performance on the whole, said that it was “embarrassing” that we're still discussing whether or not women can make their own healthcare decisions. He noted that his wife had gone to Planned Parenthood earlier in her life not for abortions, but cancer screenings. He said that Planned Parenthood provides “invaluable services to low-income women, women with no health insurances.” Sadler also made clear that he supports choice and Planned Parenthood, and disagreed with the state's efforts to defund the entire Women's Health Program just because certain individuals don't like Planned Parenthood. “It's the wrong position that we're taking as a state.”
Let's be really clear: Republicans' opposition to Planned Parenthood is out of touch with what Texas voters want. A PPP poll conducted in March showed that 59% of likely Texas voters oppose Governor Perry's efforts to kick the provider out of the Women's Health Program. Planned Parenthood itself enjoys enviably high support in public opinion polls. A Quinnipiac University poll found that 53% of voters nationally oppose cutting off federal government funding to Planned Parenthood. An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll ound that 53 percent of Americans found it “mostly or totally unacceptable” to eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood for family planning and preventive health services. Republicans are going against the wishes of voters in Texas and nationally in their efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.
The participating candidates — all male, as the females in both parties are apparently not considered viable candidates worthy of inclusion — were also asked where they stand on reproductive choice. Unsurprisingly this broke down along party lines as well, with the men emphatically opposing a woman's right to make her own medical decisions, and the Democrats supporting it. Ladies, gird your loins, because one of these people will be voting on Supreme Court nominees. Cruz reiterated that he's strongly pro-life, from “conception to natural death.” I'm unsure how that reconciles with the death penalty. Dewhurst said he's always been pro-life, and bragged about passing some of the worst anti-choice legislation of the last decade. Leppert said he was pro-life because of his faith. Perhaps the best answer was from Craig James of all people, who said that he was 100% pro-life, and declared that the morality in our country in decline! People used to open doors for women, and say “sir” and “ma'am!” He didn't mention anything about killing five hookers, instead immediately retiring to his fainting couch to clutch his pearls.
The Democrats, again, were a beacon of sanity in this portion of the debate. Hubbard stated clearly, “I trust women to make the right decisions about their reproductive health. A group of men in Washington, DC or Austin should not make decisions for them.” Amen! Sadler noted that he is a person of faith, a Christian, and that he thinks a woman has the right to make this decision for herself, with her own counsel. He made clear that for him, there's room in his faith to disagree on this issue. It was a solid, nuanced answer.
Women of Texas: the four leading Republican candidates for US Senate are all vehemently opposed to your right to choose, your ability to get healthcare from Planned Parenthood, and your knowledge of whether or not you can make your own reproductive decisions. Good times!