By NAKIA COPELAND
President Barack Obama maintained his 2008 support among women in this year’s election – a key to his victory..
Exit polling showed that Obama received support from 55 percent of women voters, an edge that was especially important because his opponent, Mitt Romney, picked up 4 percentage points among men compared to Republican candidate John McCain’s showing in 2008. Polls show that women have been voting in greater numbers than men for nearly three decades and since 1992, a majority of the women’s vote has gone to Democratic presidential candidates.
Female voters’ concerns about access to abortion and contraception played a role in their support for Obama, polls indicate. The importance of the issue might have been heightened when state legislatures, including those in swing states like Florida and Virginia, approved laws to increase regulation of abortion providers or limit access to abortion services. Eighty-three such laws passed in 2011.
A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted f Oct. 5-11 revealed that female voters in 12 key swing states favored Obama over Republican candidate Mitt Romney by 16 percentage points. At 39 percent, abortion was named the “single most important issue for women in this election” by female voters in these critical states. And 60 percent of those same voters rated government policies on birth control as an extremely or very important issue. Also, healthcare came in third place on their list of important issues while abortion did not even appear on the male voters’ list.
“Every poll showed that women were concerned about abortion rights and the availability to contraception when they voted in the 2012 presidential election,” said Barbara Winslow, a professor and women studies specialist at Brooklyn College. “I have two daughters that were concerned and in my classes that I teach, the women were concerned.”
Democrats have charged that there is a Republican “war on women” which threatens their right to make decisions about their own bodies. Democrats have catered to women’s issues including access to abortion, contraception and healthcare. Romney, meanwhile, has waffled on these issues.
One of the ways in which Republicans have tried to restrict access to abortion is by bringing an end to taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood. Even though the organization is already banned from using taxpayer dollars to fund the abortion procedure, Romney has vowed to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
However, Romney was able to acquire Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts’ endorsement during his campaign in 2002 for governor, and continued to support abortion rights until 2005. He wrote an opinion article in The Boston Globe in 2005 that declared: “I am pro-life.” He struggled to explain that shift two years later while running for president. “I never said I was pro-choice, but my position was effectively pro-choice,” Romney told George Stephanopoulos of ABC during a Republican debate. “I changed my position.”
In February, Romney and Obama argued over whether religiously affiliated hospitals should be required to provide free contraceptives that Romney called abortive pills. And when a breast cancer group stopped financing Planned Parenthood, Romney called on the federal government to do the same, saying, “The idea that we’re subsidizing an institution that provides abortion, in my view, is wrong.” Also, in a Feb. 10 speech at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Romney said, “Let me be clear, mine will be a pro-life presidency.”
While they do not vote as a unified group, Catholics are significant in elections because of their large numbers, making up approximately one in four U.S. voters, Gregory Smith, a senior researcher who specializes in Catholic politics at the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life told CNA in a Nov. 5 interview. Smith said it is difficult to pinpoint what effect the contraception mandate and religious freedom issues was having on the Catholic vote, which Obama won with strong support among Latino Catholics.
In September, Romney said that he would prefer to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who would oppose the court’s Roe v. Wade decisionj. “I hope to appoint justices for the Supreme Court that will follow the law and the Constitution,” he said at the time on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And it would be my preference that they reverse Roe v. Wade and therefore they return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue.”
In the 2008 presidential election, according to a fact sheet issued by the Center for American Women and Politics, the female vote made a significant difference in Obama’s victory over John McCain. The fact sheet showed that there was only a small percentage difference between the candidates for male voters, but Obama led McCain among women by 13 percentage points.
In the 2012 race between Obama and Romney, a similar pattern was emerging according to polls in September.
Against that background, Romney told The Des Moines Register in an interview on Oct. 9, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” But within two hours after The Register posted its story, Romney’s campaign spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, told National Review Online that Romney “would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.”
“Women were indeed concerned about the issue of contraception, abortion, and the way in which especially the Republican candidate spoke about issues such as rape and contraception,” said Winslow.
Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney’s running mate, has introduced bills to restrict access to abortion in the past. Also, the Republican Party platform strengthened its anti-abortion stance earlier this year. Even though Romney and Ryan opposed abortion, Romney supported certain exceptions while his running mate did not. Romney told the Register that he would limit abortion through an executive order banning U.S. foreign aid money to be used for abortions.
Planned Parenthood issued a response to Romney’s comments to The Register on Oct.9, saying he “is misleading the public about his intention to restrict safe and legal abortion.”
“Last week, Mitt Romney was dishonest about his tax plan and his Medicare plan, and today he’s being dishonest about his intention to end access to safe and legal abortion,” Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood Action Fund executive vice president, said in a statement. “Mitt Romney has been crystal clear that if he’s elected president, he will work to overturn Roe v. Wade. Mitt Romney’s views on women’s health are far outside of the mainstream, and that’s why he’s trying to hide them in the last weeks until the election.”
According to the Edison Research exit poll, Romney got 56 percent of the white female vote, but Obama got enormous majorities among non-white women, who are growing in numbers.
Winslow said polls showed that the only group of women to support Romney was those who are older, white and married. “Every other group of women voters voted for Obama,” she said Winslow.