Until quite recently, conservatives knew better than to take on reproductive rights so directly. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, remember, the right focused its attack on so-called partial-birth abortion, a late-term procedure that even many pro-choice advocates find disturbing, if sometimes tragically necessary. The strategy then was to erode abortion rights around the edges, without alarming women in the center. Now several Republican presidential candidates proclaim a desire to ban abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and we’re having a nationwide argument about whether women deserve contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans.
This argument shows no signs of abating. At a hearing on Thursday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) assembled an all-male panel to discuss the birth-control mandate, leaving many women apoplectic. (Then he sent a tweet comparing his witnesses to Martin Luther King Jr., apparently unaware that the civil-rights hero was once a member of a Planned Parenthood committee, or that he described a “striking kinship between our movement and Margaret Sanger’s early efforts.”)
The same day, in a now-infamous MSNBC appearance, Foster Friess, the wealthy patron of the pro-Rick Santorum super PAC, dismissed the idea that birth-control coverage matters. “On this contraceptive thing, my gosh it’s such [sic] inexpensive,” he said. “You know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.” His message was clear: ladies, keep your legs closed!