Women's issues, primarily abortion, are a key which will decide the outcome of this year's US election. U.S religious conservatives have taken a steady leaning in recent years. As the country's conservative religious right gain precedence in mainstream thought and policy, the divergence between the religious right, and secular left is wider than ever, leading towards what is now a tight race where only a few states will ultimately decide the outcome. Women's issues, particularly in healthcare and mainly abortion, are pivotal for this election, and matter more than ever.
My first year living in the US has been quite revealing, perhaps I was a little naive as to the scope that conservative values permeate the mainstream social thought and media, so it has become quite an entertaining year. With the rise of neo-conservatives, The Tea Party and overwhelming acceptance of what I see as 'the graying of the area between church and state'; conservatism is reaching its unprecedented extreme. America is increasingly divided, more than ever before – and the main divisive issues, religious conservatives and traditional values vs. secular liberals, social equality and freedom.
Examples of the Right's views are Rush Limbaugh's verbal bashing of a university student activist, Sandra Fluke, (naming her a 'slut' for advocating for women's contraceptive rights), to Republican Senator Todd Akin's revelation of his absurd views of the female body and it's abilities to "shut that whole thing down" in "legitimate rape" circumstances, to the recent meme of 'Binders full of women' and just yesterday's comments by republican senate candidate Richard Mourdock's that pregnancy resulting from Rape is the 'Will of God'. Such extreme positions, troublingly, have become social norm in political discourse in the States.
It is quite clear; the religious right has taken a very strong view and this has widened the divergence between Republicans and Democrats. The differences are quite stark: the policy of a Romney Administration will be to appose abortions, with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother', the Obama administration supports women's choice in these matters. In articulation of the Democratic position and in response to Todd Akin's remarks earlier this year, Obama stated:
"So what I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn't have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health care decisions on behalf of women"
However, Americans have in this election what they have never seen before: Vice President Biden and the presidential candidate's running mate, Paul Ryan, are both devout Catholics. They both believe that life starts at conception. Ultimately their dividing position is a secular and non-secular view of government.
When asked in the Vice Presidential debate if people who believe in pro choice should be worried if a republican government came to office, Ryan responded in not so many words that if a republican government took stage, they would overturn Roe v Wade (the landmark US case which gave women abortion rights) and return control over abortion to individual states.
Interestingly enough, Vice President Biden, responded that while he agrees with the Catholic Church's position on abortion he does not believe that this belief should be imposed on other Americans.
" Life begins at conception that is the church's judgment - I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews, I just refuse to impose that on others."
A recent Gallop poll demonstrated just how pivotal these issues are. In the twelve swing states1 – 39 percent of women named abortion the number one issue behind the election2. It is clear that this issue is one that has penetrated social thought, and Americans are thinking long and hard about it. Chances are, in America, be you pro life or pro choice; you're pretty passionate about it.
We are starting to see indicators that American women are more comfortable with Obama's policy towards birth control. In a later Gallop poll, 57percent named Obama more apt to dealing with Women's health issues, compared to 34% naming Romney as more capable. Even more interestingly, according to a recent Bloomberg poll, 77% of respondents stated that abortion should not be part of the national political debate, denoting that this is an area that many people believe that the government should not be legislating in.
The problem of the Republican's firm stance on these issues is that it caters to only one group of Americans. This strong conservative position ostracizes many members of the US electorate. Implemented, it could be quite destructive, especially for less privileged members of society, as backyard operations inevitably surface, creating a multitude of more health and social problems.
As someone who believes strongly in the separation of religion from politics, and is pro-life and pro-choice, I'm putting forward that conservatives would better see their efforts placed in movements towards supporting women in working towards creating a society where women and men are more informed, responsible and supported.
Rose Espinola is a freelance writer who has spent significant periods in the Middle East, the U.S. and Australia.
Rose has a working background in education, immigration, social justice and non-profit. She received her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations at Griffith University in Queensland, and her Masters of International Law at the University of Sydney. Rose’s focus areas are Culture, Gender, Citizenship, Politics and Social Justice. She currently lives in Colorado, USA.