Fifty-One Percent

In a recent New York Times column, Gail Collins observed “the thing that makes our current politics particularly awful isn’t procedural. It’s that the Republican Party has become over-the-top extreme.”

She left out “mean-spirited and patriarchal.”

I was an active Republican for 35 years, but the party I belonged to no longer exists. There is no more striking evidence of that fact than the poisonous brew of policies that have been collectively dubbed the “war on women.”

The party I belonged to made at least some room for good-faith disagreements about abortion. Today’s GOP not only uses opposition to reproductive rights as an absolute litmus test, it proposes to deny thousands of poor women access to basic health services provided by Planned Parenthood, because that organization spends 3% of its own money on abortions.

Sorry you’re dying of breast cancer, sister, but hey—we’re “pro-life.”

Recently, the extremists have ventured well beyond attacks on reproductive choice. The recent fight over access to contraception was a wake-up call. The fact that Rick Santorum has been taken seriously as a Presidential candidate by a major political party, despite criticizing both birth control and women who work outside the home, is simply chilling.

It’s not just the unremitting attack on women’s right to control our own bodies.  A larger message is that women and children (at least those no longer in utero) are simply unimportant.

In Washington, the GOP defends subsidies for big oil while it proposes deep cuts to social programs that primarily serve women and children.

Speaking of sending a message: in several states, Republicans have championed deeply offensive bills requiring women to submit to demeaning trans-vaginal ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy, and they have proposed “personhood” amendments that would redefine most widely used birth control methods as abortion, and outlaw their use.

These and literally hundreds of other efforts—silly and serious—convey a breathtaking condescension to those who comprise 51% of the voting population. That condescension was perfectly captured by Rush Limbaugh—he of the “if you want birth control you’re a slut” rant—when he dismissed the idea of a war on women by protesting that Republican men simply want to “protect” us.

When I first went to law school in 1971, I encountered this sort of patronizing, belittling attitude everywhere. But I have news for today’s smug lawmakers: women are no longer willing to smile sweetly and seethe internally.

Pundits talk a lot about the gender gap. It is going to grow.

Here in Indiana, a group of Democratic women did some electoral research, and discovered that over 400,000 Hoosier women who had voted in the 2008 Democratic primary failed to vote in 2010. Had they done so, a number of results would have changed.

There is always a fall-off in voting in non-Presidential years, and a significant number of those women will probably return to the polls in 2012, but this group isn’t taking that for granted. They have formed a “51% Club,” with the express purpose of making sure women vote in May and November. The 51% Club held its first event last week.

I go to lots of fundraisers, but I have rarely been to one as well attended as this one. There are a lot of angry women—and men—right now.

Gail Collins was right. “You can try to fix that [GOP extremism] by working from within to groom a more sensible pack of future candidates, or from without by voting against the Republicans’ nominees until they agree to shape up.”

Those are the choices. A lot of us have made ours.


  1. Voting straight Dem or Libertarian in large numbers would boot the repubs out. The Repubs (my former party) have turned into nothing but narrow-minded Evangelical theocrats determined to legislate morality for everyone. I am truly ashamed of the state our our Country now and how the feeble-minded have handed control over to right-wing so-called “Christians” who are anything but. From now on I will be voting straight Dem or Libertarian.

  2. If the past non-Presidential election didn’t point out the importance of these election years, nothing will. Each and every election is important because we are in essense “hiring” those who will protect our interests, our well-being and our tax dollars. The demoralizing fight against women in all areas of life will hopefully wake all women up to the importance of their vote.

    In late 1950 early 1960 my neighbor was 7 months pregnant when her baby (and at 7 months it is a baby) died for some reaslon. She was forced to carry the baby to term; this sent her into an emotional, mental and physical decline. She isolated herself from all of her friends and they suddenly moved away so no idea what happened to her. In 1980 my daughter and her husband were delighted to be expecting their first child. By 5 months along the doctor had found no heartbeat; tests showed the fetus had died at 2 months along and was severely infected as was my daughter. She was legally allowed to have a theraputic abortion. Her daughter had a 3 year old daughter when she suddenly developed a potentially fatal seizure disorder. She was 19 and could not find a decent job, couldn’t keep a low paid job due to her seizures and had no insurance. Her mother (my daughter) was supporting both of them when my granddaughter got pregnant because they couldn’t afford birth control pills and anti-seizure mediction. She opted to attempt to carry her baby to full term but couldn’t take anti-seizure medication due to the pregnancy. She knew she knew she was risking her own life. She died at age 24 having seizures so we lost her and her baby girl. My daughter and granddaughter’s stories and their results are totally different BUT, they both had the option of abortion. Abortion should not be used as an easy form of birth control but there are times when it is a necessary choice. The loss of my granddaughter and great-granddaughter is still heart-breaking but it was her choice to forego abortion. Old men who make these laws governing our health care system have available erectile dysfunction supplies through Medicare but they are trying to take away all rights to women’s bodies through the health care system. Whatever your views on birth control or abortion; when you go to the polls remember that this should be YOUR choice, not the option of any political party.

  3. @JoAnn Green: You said “In late 1950 early 1960 my neighbor was 7 months pregnant when her baby (and at 7 months it is a baby) died for some reaslon. She was forced to carry the baby to term; this sent her into an emotional, mental and physical decline.” I wonder if it is MY mother (Liz R.) you’re referring to! If so, she was a wonderful, caring mother to me and my sibs, but she was NEVER the same. If it wasn’t my mom, well, that’s even sadder, because that means that this sick situation happened to more than one woman.

    This is a great post by Ms. Kennedy. I take heart knowing that she no longer considers herself a part of this new party, whatever it’s calling itself.

  4. Leslie; this happened in New Whiteland, Indiana and the horrible suffering this woman was forced to endure probably did happen to many women years ago. My thoughts have always been with that young woman; she is an excellent example of why we must not let the government, or the religious beliefs of others, rule our bodies and make our decisions. My heart goes out to your family but you sound as if you are a strong, loving young woman and understand your mother’s long ago grief.

  5. @Leslie and JoAnn,

    I heard a similar account in the early 1980’s from a young school teacher living in another state. Somewhere in the final trimester of her pregnancy, it was discovered that the baby was no longer alive; however, she had to endure the remainder of her pregnancy before her OB/GYN would induce labor. I was a young man, but I did grieve for my co-worker who showed up for work daily bearing, what I imagine, would be about the worst news a pregnant lady could know. Yes, abortion was legal at that time; however, her particular OB/GYN did not provide her with any information about her options. Now that I’m older, married and a father, I’m even more incensed that this young school teacher had to carry a dead baby to full-term and then go through the same labor discomforts, but without the anticipation of holding a kicking, screaming newborn which somehow negates the discomforts of labor.

  6. My own personal story (and it IS personal!) is that my birth mother left her hometown to “live with her sister”. Actually, it WAS her sister (a nurse) who helped her deal with the situation. My birth mother chose to give me life and place me for adoption. I was twice blessed, as I was adopted by my wonderful parents who instilled in me the importance of education, helping others, and being kind to animals.

    It was entirely my birth mother’s choice to do what she did–without any interference from any medical or governmental entity. She gave me life–my adoptive parents gave me A LIFE.

    I feel sure that my birth mother agonized over her decision. Her choice was a real relief for me, or I would not be typing this!

    I grieve for the women who ran into such awful roadblocks in their lives. Men can make their own decisions about such ‘bedroom matters,’ and women should be able to as well.

    Thanks to all who shared their very personal, very sad stories. I know it wasn’t easy to do.

Comments are closed.