The War on Women Myth: Pro-abortion groups and others on the Left keep trying to use this weapon on opponents – but is its ability to wound lessening?
By Barbara Joanna Lucas, Organization Trends, January 2014 (PDF here)
Summary: For years, left-wing activist groups and their “progressive” politician allies have pretended that their opponents are waging a “War on Women!” Sometimes this public relations meme has worked, but a review of its history suggests that its effectiveness as a political weapon is diminishing.
It’s like a really bad movie that’s oddly successful and keeps spawning sequels with new characters and the same plot. This past November marked a huge month for the truly awful movie, first in the state of Virginia, where one battle in the so-called “War on Women” ended but the U.S. Supreme Court promised a sequel.
Democrat Terry McAuliffe—sometimes referred to as a stalking horse for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign—squeaked out a close victory over Republican Ken Cuccinelli in the Virginia governor’s race after his side outspent Cuccinelli ten to one on television ads. The bulk of TV ads emphasized Cuccinelli’s supposed war on women, the meme that was so successful for Democrats in the 2012 national elections. In this case, the tag stuck in the eyes of the mainstream media, because as a state legislator and state attorney general Cuccinelli had supported pro-life policies. “It was the most pronounced I’ve ever seen it,” Dawn Laguens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said following the election (Politico, Nov. 9, 2013).
Planned Parenthood dumped another $1 million in TV ads on top of McAuliffe’s vast campaign war chest, claiming that Cuccinelli abhorred women, wanted to take over their health choices, seize their birth control pills, make it tougher for women to divorce their husbands, and ensure there was no pay equity between the sexes.
It worked. McAuliffe won the overall women’s vote by 9 percentage points, but he won the unmarried women’s vote by 42 points. Without a gender gap that size, it’s very likely Cuccinelli would have closed the race’s two-point margin.
That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear a case regarding the controversial Obamacare mandate that requires health insurers to provide free abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception to women—all classified as “preventative” measures.
The plaintiffs in this case are two family-owned companies, the Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby and the Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties Store Corp., both of which argue that paying for employee-based coverage of these drugs violates their religious freedom.
White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett used intense hyperbole the day the court announced it would hear the case. “No corporate entity should be in position to limit women’s legal access to care, or to seize a controlling interest over the health care choices of women,” Jarrett said in a statement on the White House blog. “To take that type of power away from individuals, and to let the personal beliefs of a woman’s boss dictate her health care choices would constitute a major step backward for women’s health and self-determination.”
During the 2012 election, Democrats used Obamacare’s free contraception mandate to frame their “war on women” theme, with the help of a who’s who of left-wing nonprofits such as People for the American Way, the American Civil Liberties Union, MoveOn, and the Center for American Progress. Regardless of how the high court rules on the mandate, it’s certain the Left will continue using some variation of this leitmotif.
The Soros connection
Radical philanthropist George Soros funds many of the groups involved in hyping the phony war against American females, including the fake media watchdog Media Matters of America, to which he wrote a $1 million check in 2010. Through his philanthropy, the Open Society Institute, he has also given to other major combatants in the mythical war on women, including the American Civil Liberties Union ($23,524,593 since 1999), Center for American Progress ($4,099,991 since 2005), People for the American Way Foundation ($3.8 million since 1999), and National Abortion Rights Action League ($908,850 since 1999).
Despite the loss of 354,000 female jobs under the Obama administration, the president’s party managed to convince large swaths of the public that Republicans were crazed anti-women jihadists. Republicans see the charge as patently ridiculous, so they made little effort to combat the meme.
National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez perhaps summed it up best in an April 10, 2012 post: “Democrats lost women in 2010, and they want them back,” she wrote. “And they will scare women—even constructing threats that don’t actually exist—if they have to. Their strategy is insulting to women who don’t share their hostility toward the Catholic Church and other religious groups that have tried to be led not into the temptations of our secularist age.”
Well after the 2012 election, former Democratic operative and current liberal pundit Kirsten Powers said at a forum last September, “I will concede there is no war on women as presented by the Democratic Party” (Christian Post, Sept. 20, 2013).
Republicans were perhaps correct to believe no thinking voter – man or woman – would believe the “War on Women” meme. But, as the old saying goes, every thinking voter is not enough because it takes a majority to win an election. President Obama won the women’s vote by 11 percentage points in 2012, even as he lost men by 7 percent. But 54 percent of the voter turnout that year was women.
It’s going to continue. In 2016, when Hillary Clinton is likely to lead the Democratic ticket, “the challenge for Republicans will be learning to fight back when ‘misogynist’ replaces ‘racist’ as the Democrats’ pejorative du jour,” the Hoover Institution’s William Whalen warned in a Nov. 6, 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed.
Left-wing cartoonist Ted Rall, who regularly criticizes Democrats for not being radical enough, concurred with Whalen. Rall told radio and TV host Steve Malzberg that if Mrs. Clinton secures the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, “sexism will be the new racism.” Similarly, Noel Sheppard of NewsBusters predicts that if Clinton gets the Democratic nod, “the so-called ‘Republican War on Women’ will be dusted off again, and every utterance by an opponent or commentator that isn’t flattering will be due to Clinton’s lack of a Y-chromosome and not because of her views” (NewsBusters.org, Dec. 3, 2013).
EMILY’s List, which supports pro-choice women candidates for office, has already started a “Madame President” campaign. The organization used the “War on Women” mantra heavily in 2011 and 2012 for fundraising and get out the vote efforts.
But right now the generals supposedly fighting for women are eying 2014, using Virginia as a template not only for the congressional midterms but for statehouses as well. “What we’re seeing in Virginia is incredibly validating,” Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “I believe this race has set the table for these issues and for women to be determinative in 2014” (National Journal, Oct. 7, 2013).
Five incumbent GOP governors are up for re-election in states that Obama carried in 2012: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. The Democratic Governors Association (DGA) is already planning to paint each of these governors as another Cuccinelli, the Washington Post reported Nov. 9. Specifically, the DGA looks to highlight the fact that Kasich, Walker, Scott, and Corbett each signed legislation requiring that pregnant women have ultrasounds before abortions.
Among the Democrats running in the Pennsylvania gubernatorial primary to challenge Corbett is U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who previously ran a Philadelphia abortion clinic.
Asked about pending “War on Women” attacks, Walker said at a speech in Washington that his opponent in the 2010 election and 2012 recall attempt, Democrat Tom Barrett both times, tried to use the “war” meme with no electoral success. “I find it insulting that you think that voters just care about one or two issues,” Walker said. “But I find that the women as well as the men I talk to in my state, what they want to know was I going to continue to move forward with reforms that will help get our budget balanced, lower our debts, improve our economy, improve our schools, improve higher education.”
But when Walker was out of his state, about 150 women wearing pink marched on the Wisconsin capitol to protest his pro-life policies (The Progressive, Nov. 22, 2013).
It looks like the most prominent governor’s race in the upcoming election cycle to be built on the war on women myth will occur in Texas. Democrat state Sen. Wendy Davis became a national hero to the abortion lobby for delivering a filibuster that temporarily blocked the passage of a bill to ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. She’s running against Republican state Attorney General Greg Abbott. But being the newest feminist icon might not be enough to win, because 59 percent of Texas women supported the 20-week ban, according to a University of Texas at Austin poll.
The war’s historical origin
Politicians of all stripes and parties have used over-the-top hyperbolic slogans to scare voters. Identity politics is also an old card that Democrats love to play. This meme, however, is unique in that it claims a political party is out to harm every member of a sex that represents more than half the nation’s population.
So as any reasonable woman offended by this patronizing campaign theme might ask: Where did this slogan come from?
Most probably assume it began with the 2012 election cycle, but in fact this absurd, awful movie originated long before and simply keeps being remade because sometimes it draws big audiences. Consider the following examples, which show that this meme has more lives than Freddy Krueger of Nightmare on Elm Street fame.
In 1991, feminist author Susan Faludi’s book, Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, claimed that during the 1980s, the media used propaganda to turn back the gains women made in the 1970s. (If this laughable claim puzzles you because you don’t remember the mainstream media of the 1980s being anti-feminist, you’re not alone.)
In 1996, a one-time Republican Party operative and delegate to the 1992 Republican National Convention named Tanya Melich wrote The Republican War Against Women: An Insider’s Report from Behind the Lines. Melich “observed these actions from within; and documents this takeover and the Party’s ongoing practices (such as embracing the Christian right) in a devastating, factual, and often hair-raising report,” exclaimed the book’s publisher.
In 1997, the book Life and Death: Unapologetic Writings on the Continuing War Against Women was published as a collection of essays by radical feminist author Andrea Dworkin. She had made the phrase popular almost a decade earlier in a 1989 essay.
In 2004, in the middle of a presidential campaign, San Francisco liberal radio host Laura Flanders edited a book of essays titled The W Effect: Bush’s War on Women, which included pieces from George W. Bush haters such as Molly Ivins and Maureen Dowd.
Two years later—in the middle of a critical midterm election—Barbara Finley, a professor of sociology at Texas A&M University, wrote George W. Bush and the War on Women: Turning Back the Clock on Progress.
Women’s issues weren’t paramount that year when Democrats recaptured Congress, nor in the next two national elections, so the expression lay dormant until after the 2010 elections, when Republicans carried the women’s vote and recaptured the House.
Kaili Joy Gray of the far-left gossip website Daily Kos wrote a piece titled, “The Coming War on Women,” published Jan. 3, 2011. She predicted doom with the new Republican House majority. This provided a segue to the current demagoguery, which has been significantly more effective.
In February 2011, the Republican-controlled House was debating the proposed “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” That’s when Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, said, “This legislation, represents an entirely new front in the war on women and their families.” The Center for American Progress followed Nadler’s comment with a press release, “The Right’s War on Women.” Planned Parenthood led a protest against the legislation with printed signs that said “War on Women.”
On March 8, 2011, the National Organization for Women issued a press release that said, “On International Women’s Day, NOW Calls for End to ‘War on Women.’” The legislation died in the Senate, but the war slogan was alive and well.
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, began using the phrase in March. But given her reputation as a partisan bomb thrower, few paid attention until she became the Democratic National Committee chairwoman in May 2011. “The war on women that the Republicans have been waging since they took over the House, I think is going to not only restore but possibly helps us exceed the president’s margin of victory in the next election,” Wasserman Schultz said after the legislation passed the House (Slate.com, April 12, 2012). That election prediction turned out to be accurate, as Wasserman Schultz continued to hammer away on the point.
The ACLU joined the fray, asserting under a new section on its website,
“The ‘War on Women’ describes the legislative and rhetorical attacks on women and women’s rights taking place across the nation. It includes a wide-range of policy efforts designed to place restrictions on women’s health care and erode protections for women and their families. Examples at the state and federal level have included restricting contraception; cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood; state-mandated, medically unnecessary ultrasounds; abortion taxes; abortion waiting periods; forcing women to tell their employers why they want birth control, and prohibiting insurance companies from including abortion coverage in their policies.”
The liberal group People for the American Way (PFAW) issued a report, “Dispatches from the varied fronts in the growing War on Women,” about the contraception debate, equal pay laws, and violence against women legislation. The PFAW report concluded that “Anti-woman proposals that have been percolating in the right-wing fringe for years—such as “personhood” measures—are suddenly supported by mainstream presidential candidates. Rights that women have come to take for granted—like the right to access birth control—have suddenly come under attack for the first time in decades.”
In 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services began promoting the Obamacare mandate that insurance cover abortion-inducing drugs, contraception and sterilization, which religious employers say violates their freedom of religion. This pits the right of free exercise of religion, explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment, against the “right” to free birth control, which isn’t actually granted in the Constitution.
House Democrats held a forum anointing Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke as the nation’s authority on birth control, and she waxed on about the need for subsidized birth control. After that, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh used an offensive term to describe Fluke, referring to her and anyone who wants to be subsidized to have sex, as a slut. As Fluke appeared on the national scene, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro saw through the partisan smokescreen (FrontPageMag.com, March 19, 2012):
Whenever Democrats have trouble riling up voters about their agenda—as they are now—they quickly revert to their tried and true playbook. Specifically, page 138: ‘Drive a wedge between women and men. Women tend to vote liberal; if you can alienate them from men, they vote even more liberal.’ It comes right after the rule on page 137: ‘Use scare tactics about Social Security to get the votes of seniors.’There’s only one problem: the scare about women isn’t going to work.The premise of an alleged Republican war on women is faulty as well as sexist: it assumes that women are the mild and weak and require men to pay for their services. The Democrats, including columnists like Sally Kohn, lament the fact that in February 2011, “anti-choice Republicans pushed a rogue measure to cut off all federal funding from Planned Parenthood, even though less than 3% of services provided by Planned Parenthood are abortions, none of which are paid for using federal grant dollars. Still, Republicans saw an opportunity to fire up their fringe base while undermining a liberal-leaning advocacy organization.”
Unfortunately, Limbaugh’s comments provided immense fodder for Democrats and their army of special interest allies, who began demanding Republicans denounce the number-one radio talk show host.
The George Soros-funded rapid-response slander shop Media Matters for America jumped in to say that Fox News and talk radio were wrong to dismiss the war as a left-wing fantasy, adding, “Right-wing media are claiming that a Republican ‘war on women’ is ‘phony’ and ‘invented’ by the left to distract attention from issues such as the economy and gas prices. But Republicans throughout the country have indeed pushed a plethora of legislation during the past few years that would result in limiting women’s reproductive rights, access to health care, and access to equal pay; moreover, right-wing media themselves launched a bullying campaign against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke after she testified in favor of expanded contraception coverage.”
The introduction to the “War on Women” section of EMILY’s List website says, “Scroll through our timeline that highlights the major hits against women’s health and rights—both in Congress and from extremist GOP leaders like Rush Limbaugh. The GOP’s priorities are completely out of touch with the rest of the country, and we need to send more pro-choice Democratic women to Congress to end this war against women once and for all.”
EMILY’s List teamed with MoveOn to start the website StopTheWarOnWomen.com, asking people to sign a petition to “Tell Congress to stop its attacks on Planned Parenthood.” The site added, “By signing this petition, you are opting to receive email from EMILY’s List and MoveOn.org Political Action.” MoveOn.org posted on its own website the “Top 10 Shocking Attacks from the GOP’s War on Women.” The top 10 charges include accusations against members of Congress and state legislatures for pro-life legislation and cuts to various programs.
The Democrats were riding a great wave until Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen nearly caused it to unravel during a CNN interview in which she mocked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney for saying he kept in touch with the economy through his wife Ann. “His wife has never actually worked a day in her life,” Rosen cracked.
Slate’s David Weigel wrote in an April article, “Over the next 24 hours, the Romney campaign managed to make Democrats—including First Lady Michelle Obama—stop what they were doing and denounce Rosen, who does not work for the Obama-Biden campaign or the Democratic National Committee.”
Even DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse called a truce in the war, saying, “I’m not a fan of the term. I mean, I’m sure I’ve probably used it. We all fall into these easy vernaculars … but we in the DNC have not been running a campaign based on the term ‘war on women.’ That’s a myth cooked up by Republicans” (Slate.com, April 12, 2012).
Blaming Republicans for the attack on Republicans was a sign the gig was up, or so it seemed. Then Rep. Todd Akin, the Republican nominee in the Missouri Senate race, uttered the words “legitimate rape.” The Obama campaign leaped and used the gaffe to paint the entire GOP as the Akin party. Indiana Senate Republican candidate Richard Mourdock gave the Left more ammunition when he said during a debate, “I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” Mourdock’s statement was merely a restatement of basic Christian belief in the sanctity of all human life, but it didn’t help to fight the Democratic claim that misogyny was a party-wide problem among Republicans.
Women’s rights was a central theme of the Democratic National Convention, as two dozen Democratic women spoke on the second night of the convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. The speakers included former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, National Abortion Rights Action League president Nancy Keenan, congressional candidate and war veteran Tammy Duckworth, women’s pay activist Lilly Ledbetter, and First Lady Michelle Obama. It definitely was a big assist in leading to the Democratic victory, as Obama carried unmarried women by a 38-percent margin over Romney.
The notion carried on into the next year. Last October during the 16-day partial government shutdown, Clinton White House chief of staff John Podesta’s pressure group, Center for American Progress (CAP), issued a “War on Women, Shutdown Edition” press release. Women are “disproportionately represented in the types of clerical jobs that are likely to get furloughed. Women who work for the federal government still tend to be overrepresented in administrative, human resource, and assistant-level jobs, and compared to men,” according to CAP. In addition, CAP said, the shutdown would cut nutrition programs, stop funding for Head Start, and cut domestic violence programs.
If the shutdown argument seemed a stretch, CAP was undaunted, ready to apply the war to nearly any issue. In an Oct. 17, 2013 post at its Think Progress blog it claimed that an innocuous Texas voter ID law disproportionately keeps women from voting. “Because so many women fail to update their IDs after adopting their spouses’ last name, their right to vote is under threat. Doing so, however, comes with a litany of obstacles.”
But why not stretch the boundaries, considering the meme’s success. Just look what happened in Virginia. Or consider New Jersey, site of the other governor’s race last year. Admittedly, most observers would classify Gov. Chris Christie (R) as a moderate, and he lacked strong opposition. But he is pro-life, cut funding to Planned Parenthood in the state, and vetoed a bill to make it easier for women to file equal-pay lawsuits against employers. He could have been an easy target for claims that Republicans wage war on women. Yet he won 57 percent of the women’s vote. When pushed on the life issue, he responded, “I’m pro-life. I believe in exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. That’s my position, take it or leave it” (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 7, 2013).
Recent public opinion polls indicate women aren’t falling for the war sloganeering. An August 2013 Gallup poll found only 15 percent of women felt they have been passed over for a raise or promotion because they were women. Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac University poll found 60 percent of women support banning abortions after 20 weeks into a pregnancy, while just 50 percent of men supported the ban. A separate Washington Post/ABC News poll found 71 percent of women favored a ban on abortion 20 weeks into the pregnancy (Public Discourse, Oct. 30, 2013).
What’s more, Republicans were quick to pounce on how weak Democrats were in dealing with anti-women behavior by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner and former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner. Weiner, after stepping down in Congress for his sexting habit, jumped into the New York mayor’s race. (For the uninitiated, “sexting” is the act of sending sexually explicit messages and/or photographs, primarily between mobile phones. The term is of recent vintage and is a portmanteau of sex and texting.)
For a time Weiner was the frontrunner in the Democratic primary, until the public learned that he had continued his bad habit even after resigning from Congress and promising to change.
Filner, a former U.S. House member, still has a profile on the Planned Parenthood website under the “Why I am Pro Choice” section. He faced numerous allegations of sexual harassment from 19 women during 2013 and eventually pleaded guilty.
“The war on women can be done at any level,” Filner said speaking to Planned Parenthood during the 2012 campaign for San Diego mayor. “My opponent won’t even fill out the Planned Parenthood questionnaire” (FrontPageMag.com, Oct. 21, 2013). Filner’s opponent that year was actually a gay, pro-abortion rights Republican. But not filling out a Planned Parenthood questionnaire was enough for the Left to pretend the candidate was part of the anti-woman brigade.
Republicans demanded that Democrats call on Filner to resign from office and that Weiner drop out of the race, but most Democrats scoffed at doing either.
In August 2013, the Republican National Committee issued a memo on the “Democrats War on Women”: “Democrats’ hypocrisy is appalling. And with their silence, they are sanctioning the actions of Bob Filner and Anthony Weiner and numerous others who have assaulted, harassed, and preyed on women.”
The memo was also signed by the Republican Governors Association, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and the Republican State Legislative Committee.
“Where’s the outrage? Why aren’t leading Democrats like President Obama, Vice President Biden, and former Secretary Clinton, standing up for these women?”
Comparing Filner and Akin, the RNC memo observed, “When a Republican candidate made a ridiculous and offensive remark, he was swiftly condemned by the party’s presidential nominee, the RNC chairman, and congressional leaders. In contrast, when a Democrat official is accused of physically attacking women, Democrat leaders looked the other way.”
“Two full weeks passed before DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz could even be bothered to call for Mayor Filner’s resignation. Not until seven women came forward alleging verbal or physical harassment did she come to the defense of women in San Diego. What took so long? Did she not think six harassed women was a concern?”
The memo concluded, “Let’s be clear: Democrats made up and launched the contrived ‘war on women,’ and the media happily went along with it. Clearly they didn’t think through their ‘war’ strategy. It’s now backfired and exposed them as the hypocrites that they are. And since you won’t hear about that in the mainstream media, it’s up to all of us to get the truth out.”
Filner eventually resigned and pleaded guilty to three charges. Weiner got just 5 percent of the vote during the primary election. So perhaps the days of “being a Democrat means never having to say I’m sorry” are over. Disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, who resigned in 2008 over a prostitution scandal, tried to restart his political career in 2013 by running for New York City comptroller. He too was repudiated by voters.
No matter your gender, a man or woman would find a literal war on women to be problematic upon hearing about it. The phrase incites emotion, but emotions cool.
Eventually, this bad, cheesy movie is going to get really old.
Barbara Joanna Lucas is a writer from Virginia.