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The fight for women’s bodies and the race to the White House

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Auveen Wood
WVoN co-editor

Although taxation was predicted as the issue that would dominate the 2012 US presidential election, abortion, birth control and gay marriage have so far been at the forefront of the Republican  primaries.

This year a record number of states, including Oklahoma, Virginia and Pennsylvania have enacted legislation restricting women’s access to abortion.

The leading Republican candidates, Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney have both stated their opposition to gay marriage, abortion and contraception.

Given that that Obama probably won the 2008 election because of support from female voters (and his popularity among women is apparently on the rise), the question is – why have the Republican candidates declared war on women’s bodies?

True, social conservatism is a necessary staple of Republican political rhetoric with over 70 per cent of Republican voters describing themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative”.

The Irish Times reported that Romney repeated the words “conservative” and “conservatism” 20 times in an address to the Conservative Political Action Committee in early February.

One way of proving your conservative pedigree is to pillory the so-called liberal excess of the democrats and the unashamedly pro-liberal approach of the Obama administration, epitomized by his recent push to extend insurance cover to female contraception.

And there is nothing like the divisive issues of abortion, contraception and gay marriage to galvanise the republicans’ core supporters over the last two decades – the religious right and white middle-class voters.

Witness the stunning success of Santorum, a candidate previously unknown outside  his home-state of Pennsylvania six months ago.

Santorum has attracted the support of the most conservative of Republican voters with his stance on the social issues that energize and mobilize voters from the religious right.

Evangelical Christians and Christian fundamentalists have emerged as the “bedrock” of the Republican party. In the 2012 Republican primary elections, for example, they account for over 50 per cent of voter turnout, with Santorum the primary beneficiary.

During the 1990s the Christian Coalition, a religious conservative lobby group formed by televangelist Pat Robertson, played a considerable hand in the 1994 mid-term landslide for the Republicans and George W. Bush‘s successful presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2004.

The rise of the religious right, an amalgamation of religious conservative Christian denominations has its more immediate beginnings in the civil and cultural revolutions of the 1960s.

This is clearly evident in the policies of organizations such as the Christian Coalition of America and Focus on the Family which promote the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and religious freedom while condemning pre-marital sex, homosexuality and contraception.

But Romney and Santorum’s conservative tug-of-war is, hopefully, pushing them further from the presidential office as the Republican party’s traditional demographic of religious and white voters begins to age.

The problem is that while the Republican party in general, and Romney and Santorum in particular, try to distinguish themselves from the Democratic “left”, the rights that women have enjoyed in most states since the 1960s continue to be eroded.

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